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Blast rocks central Damascus despite truce

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A car bomb has rocked central Damascus, Syrian state media said, a day after activists reported the deaths of scores across the country despite a shaky ceasefire and an upcoming deployment of 300 UN peace monitors.

State TV on Tuesday reported that three people were wounded when the blast went off in the Marjeh district of the capital blaming an "armed terrorist group".

"An armed terrorist group detonated the car bomb near the Yelbugha complex in Marjeh, wounding three people and causing damage to nearby buildings," state-media said.
 
State news agency SANA said the bomb was placed under the car of an unsuspecting man, who was among those hurt.

The blast came as the Locol Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network, said violence across the country killed 54 civilians and five soldiers on Monday.

At least 50 died in a government assault on the Arbaeen neighbourhood in the central city of Hama while 21 others were reported killed in the northwestern Idlib province.

Video footage posted online by activists showed a street in Arbaeen with large pools of blood and women weeping. Two young girls were shown in one video crying and holding up the picture of a man.

UN criticised

The violence occurred despite the April 12 ceasefire mediated by UN-Arab League negotiator Kofi Annan, and the presence of an advance team of UN monitors to implement the truce.

The persistent bloodshed 12 days into the ceasefire has sparked growing criticism from opposition activists of the fledgling UN mission, which now numbers just 11 observers out of a planned initial deployment of 30.

Neeraj Singh, a spokesman for the advance team, said the observers would be visiting different unspecified locations on Tuesday.

The monitors have toured several protest hubs since their arrival in the country earlier this month, including the battered city of Homs, where two of them set up base at the weekend.

During their visits, they have been greeted by thousands of protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Despite scepticism over the UN mission, UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday gave the go-ahead for the deployment of 300 ceasefire monitors from next week.

Ban insisted that the Assad government ensure the protection of the unarmed observers and allow them to travel freely throughout the country.

'Speculation' free

Russia, an ally of the Damascus regime, warned both sides to the conflict against disrupting the work of the UN observers which it said was crucial to providing an unbiased picture on the ground.

"The more observers there are, the more information we get that is based on objective facts and that is free from speculation," said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.

Critics have said the UN mission was simply allowing the regime to buy time as it presses its crackdown against what began as a popular revolt but has turned into an insurgency.

Washington has also expressed reservations, warning it may not back the mission's renewal after 90 days.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama ordered new sanctions on Syria and Iran and the "digital guns for hire" who help them oppress their people with surveillance software and monitoring technology.

Obama announced additions to the pile of US sanctions already faced by the two governments as part of a wider effort to crack down on human rights abuses, atrocities and genocide.

The measures will hit the two governments but also companies that help create systems that track or monitor their people for killing, torture or other abuses and prevent individuals involved from entering the United States.


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