Syria has helpfully asked the UN for more monitors – but no more than 250 in a country of over 20 million – to observe the cease-fire taking place in the embattled country. They even offered their own air support, so no need for independent aircraft to aid mobility for the observers! I think today’s events will put a damper on the allegedly positive Syrian proposal, however:

Gunfire erupted on Wednesday close to an advance team of U.N. observers who had been swarmed by protesters, giving a taste of the challenge facing a mission to monitor a shaky week-old truce that has so far failed to stop Syria’s violence.

Protesters denouncing President Bashar al-Assad had surrounded their cars near the capital, Damascus. Automatic weapons fire sent the crowds scurrying for safety.

There were no reports of casualties. But scenes of monitors’ vehicles immobilized in a crowd followed by pictures of men running away while automatic weapons fire rattles in the air were an ominous echo of an earlier Arab League monitoring mission that collapsed in failure in January.

Meanwhile, explosions continue in Homs and elsewhere, as both sides accuse the other of violating the cease-fire. Anti-government protesters accused the regime of tank shelling and the use of helicopters to attack rebels in mountain redoubts. Syria said the incidents were responses and not provocations. One protester told the New York Times, “We are not benefiting from even 20 percent of a cease-fire.”

Meanwhile, the relative drop in violence due to the pretend cease-fire has only allowed Bashar al-Assad to consolidate gains.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is strengthening his grip on the country during the relative decrease in violence brought on by U.N. demands, according to several experts.

Although the goal of countries in supporting the cease-fire was to halt the killings and pave the way for peaceful reforms, the reality is just the opposite, the analysts argue [...]

Rather than taking a step toward peace and allowing greater freedom, al-Assad is using this time to send the message to the United Nations that his forces are needed in the streets to prevent mass chaos, the analysts suggested.

Before going too far down this road, keep in mind that one of the “experts” rolled out by CNN here is Bush-era neocon Elliott Abrams. But I do think it’s true that Assad is as disinterested in this cease-fire as he is in a peaceful resolution that doesn’t end with his opponents vanquished.

As long as China and Russia still support Assad, it will be difficult to do much about this. But it’s painful to see the UN mission descend into such a farce.