- - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Syrian regime widened artillery attacks on opposition strongholds Tuesday in another sign that the U.N.-brokered cease-fire is quickly unraveling despite the presence of foreign observers, activists said.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he is asking the European Union to provide helicopters and planes for the observers because of the ongoing violence and the long distances monitors would have to travel.

The truce is part of an international plan to launch talks between President Bashar Assad’s regime and an opposition trying to topple him.

But the regime has only partially complied with the terms, and the latest escalation in attacks lowered already minimal expectations that international envoy Kofi Annan’s plan will stick.

Meanwhile, France’s foreign minister said an array of international sanctions targeting Syria’s repressive regime have cut its financial reserves by half — and Damascus is actively trying to evade them.

Alain Juppe called Tuesday for a solid international response to such “maneuvers” as he opened a Paris meeting of 57 countries to tighten sanctions against Mr. Assad.

The actual size of Syria’s financial reserves isn’t known, but it was believed to be around $17 billion at the start of the uprising in March 2011.

Mr. Juppe didn’t specify how much of Syria’s finances were affected by sanctions, but said “our information” is that they have been cut in half.

Diplomats and finance ministry officials from the Arab world, the West and elsewhere were meeting in Paris to coordinate sanction measures against Mr. Assad’s repressive regime.

The Arab League and the European Union are among more than 50 participants who want to keep up pressure on Mr. Assad.

The overall level of violence in Syria is down since the cease-fire formally took effect Thursday, but the regime has gradually stepped up attacks. The number of people killed every day also has risen steadily since a brief lull that coincided with the start of the truce.

More than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising to oust Assad began 13 months ago, according to the U.N.

The central city of Homs has been under continuous assault for about a month, with only a brief lull on the first day of the cease-fire.

In a six-minute amateur video posted Tuesday, shells are heard falling on Homs at intervals of one every few seconds. Gray or black smoke rises from several locations at once, at times filling the entire screen.

Mr. Annan, joint emissary for the U.N. and the Arab League, was in Qatar briefing the Arab League on Syria.

His plan has the backing of Assad allies, including Russia, and even with setbacks it is seen as the only way forward because Western military intervention is unlikely at this point.

In Moscow, leaders of two Syrian opposition groups said Tuesday, a day after meeting Russia’s deputy foreign minister, that they have sensed a shift in Russia’s stance and hope Moscow will crank up pressure on Mr. Assad.

Russia twice shielded Mr. Assad from U.N. Security Council condemnation, but has become more critical of the regime.

“Russia has all the necessary levers to apply pressure on Assad’s government and help Annan’s mission,” said Haytham Manna, leader in exile of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria.

From combined dispatches

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