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DAMASCUS - Syria and the United Nations signed a deal on Thursday on the framework for observers monitoring a shaky ceasefire, as Arab and Western ministers gathered in Paris to pile pressure on Damascus.
The UN Security Council, meanwhile, discussed plans to send an expanded military observer force to monitor the truce.
Syria's foreign ministry said the agreement "comes within the framework of Syrian efforts aimed at making the Annan plan succeed and to facilitate the UN observer mission while respecting Syria's sovereignty."
The spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who drafted the six-point peace plan, confirmed in Geneva that a deal on the framework to deploy monitors had been reached.
"This agreement outlines the functions of the observers as they fulfil their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government in this regard," Ahmad Fawzi said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Paris meeting, to be attended by 14 ministers including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would send a "strong" call to President Bashar al-Assad's regime to abide by the Annan plan.
Russia staying away
But Syrian ally Russia said it was staying away because the talks were only aimed at isolating the regime and would hurt the chances of direct peace talks to find a political settlement between the regime and anti-Assad rebels.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said he wants 300 unarmed observers sent on a three-month mission.
Their job will be to monitor the fragile cessation of hostilities that began on April 12 and the implementation of the Annan plan, to which Syria has committed itself.
Ban said the proposed mission would "greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms."
Diplomats said a resolution allowing the full observer mission could be ready early next week if there is agreement by the Security Council, which was briefed by Jean-Marie Guehenno, a deputy to Annan, behind closed doors on Thursday.
Monitors say that more than 11,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March 2011, with more than 120 dying since the truce came into force.
At least four people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
One civilian died during an assault by government forces in the northeastern oil city of Deir Ezzor and three others from gunfire in the town of Yabrud, north of Damascus, the watchdog said.
Although he opted to stay away from the Paris meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was "honestly fulfilling its part" to end the violence.
"I have today called on my colleagues to abandon the rhetoric of self-fulfilling prophecies that Kofi Annan's plan will certainly fail," Lavrov said in Brussels.
In a counter-charge, Juppe said: "I regret that Russia continues to lock itself into a vision that isolates it more and more, not just from the Arab world but also from the international community."
Ministers from Germany, Turkey, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere were to attend the talks which would, Juppe said, send "a message of firmness and support for Kofi Annan."
Opportunity for progress
Ban said on Wednesday that violence levels had "dropped markedly" since the ceasefire, but that the government "has yet to fully implement its initial obligations" for a withdrawal of troops and heavy armor from towns.
However, "an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build," he said.
A seven-strong advance team of UN military observers arrived in Damascus last Sunday. By the end of the week, their numbers are to swell to the 30 already authorised by the Security Council.
Ban said the team has so far been refused permission to go to Homs, with Syrian officials citing "security concerns."
The mission went to the revolt epicentre of Daraa on Tuesday, where "it enjoyed freedom of movement" and "observed no armed violence or heavy weapons," Ban said.
The official SANA news agency said the observers went to Daraa again on Thursday, even as the Syrian Observatory reported new clashes in the area.
Amateur videos posted online showed a UN vehicle surrounded by a crowd in the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, Daraa province, chanting "freedom, freedom, down with the regime."
Ban said there were violent incidents when the UN observers went to Arbeen, in the Damascus suburbs, on Wednesday.