An advance team of U.N. observers was negotiating the ground rules with Syrian authorities on Monday for monitoring the country’s 5—day—old cease—fire, which appeared to be rapidly unravelling as regime forces pounded the opposition stronghold of Homs with artillery shells and mortars, activists said.

Even though the overall level of violence across Syria has dropped significantly since the truce took effect, government attacks over the weekend raised new doubts about President Bashar Assad’s commitment to special envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end 13 months of violence and launch talks on the country’s political future.

The advance team of six U.N. monitors arrived in Damascus on Sunday night. Mr. Annan’s spokesman said the team, led by Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himmiche, met Monday with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ground rules, including what freedom of movement the observers would have. Ahmad Fawzi said the remaining 25 observers are expected to arrive in the coming days.

The Security Council demanded full freedom of movement for the U.N. team, but the regime could try to create obstacles. The failure of an Arab League observer mission earlier this year was blamed in part on regime restrictions imposed on the observers.

“We will start our mission as soon as possible and we hope it will be a success,” Mr. Himmiche told The Associated Press as he left a Damascus hotel along with his team on Monday morning.

The international community hopes U.N. observers will be able to stabilise the cease—fire, which formally took effect on Thursday, although pockets of violence have persisted, particularly in the central cities of Hama and Homs.

Tarek Badrakhan, an activist from the battered and almost deserted Homs district of Khaldiyeh, said the regime resumed its intense bombardment of the neighbourhood early Monday for the third consecutive day.

“The shelling hasn’t stopped for one minute since this morning. There are buildings on fire right now,” he said via Skype.

Badrakhan and other activists said the army appeared to be on a push to take control of the last rebel—held districts in Homs and was pounding Khaldiyeh from three sides. He said half of the nearby district of Bayada fell under the army’s control Sunday night. Troops were trying to storm Qarabees and Jouret al—Shayah but the Free Syrian Army is repelling them, he said, referring to the army defectors fighting the government.

“We hope that the observers would come to Homs as soon as possible because if things go on like this, there won’t be anything left called Homs,” Mr. Badrakhan said.

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