U.N. Halts Observer Mission In Syria Due To Escalating Violence
General Major Robert Mood, the chief of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, announced Saturday that the mission will be suspended.
The 300 U.N. observers present in Syria will remain in their locations, but they will not be carrying out their task of monitoring the ceasefire and supporting the implementation of the six-point peace plan drafted by the U.N.’s envoy to the Arab League, Kofi Annan.
The peace plan calls for cessation of all violence, allowing humanitarian agencies access to conflict zones, permitting international media representatives unrestricted access to the country, and the prioritization of political dialogue between the government and the opposition.
The peace plan, previously accepted by both parties in the conflict, and its accompanying ceasefire, have been pushed aside while violence has escalated over the last 2 weeks. This escalation has brought increased risk to the U.N. team.
General Mood stated, “U.N. observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice.” He continued: “The escalating violence is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects.”
According to the Los Angeles Times,
“the unarmed mission, begun six weeks ago, has had several close calls, including a number of incidents in which observer vehicles were shot at. At least two roadside bombs have also exploded near observer vehicles, the U.N. said. The U.N. has reported no injuries to its staffers.”
General Mood, elaborating on the reason for the cessation of the mission, said:
“Violence, over the past 10 days, has been intensifying, again willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers. The Syrian populations, civilians, are suffering and in some locations, civilians have been trapped by ongoing operations.”
The suspension of the mission will be reviewed on a daily basis, and according to the general, “operations will resume when we see the situation is fit for us to carry out our mandated activities."
Meanwhile, according to U.N. estimates, more than 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began last year.
Sixty-three people were killed in Syria on Saturday alone. A militia loyal to Assad executed 20 of them in public in Damascus, Business Week reports.
According to the New York Times, 22 civilians were killed Saturday in shelling near Damascus, adding to the death toll of 38 who were killed on Friday.
“Opposition activists monitoring flash points around the country, including Homs, Aleppo and its surrounding province and the southern province of Dara’a, reported continued shelling of civilian neighborhoods by government forces, as large antigovernment demonstrations were held.”
Human rights groups called on U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon Saturday “to ‘immediately, and personally, intervene’ to aid civilians in the city of Homs. The group said more than 1,000 families remained stranded in the area, under a constant threat of shelling, and needed to be evacuated immediately,” the New York Times reports.
Upon the U.N.’s announcement that it would be suspending its observer mission, Syrian opposition groups reacted with little surprise. According to Al Jazeera:
“Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from the Turkish capital Istanbul, where Syrian opposition groups were meeting on Saturday, said the reaction to the move by the UN mission was ‘a lack of surprise on the whole.'
“‘One delegate said to me [the monitors] were there to observe and, from where they sat, the regime had done everything to obstruct the mission to go in and actually view things,’ McNaught said.
“‘So in a sense they weren't being able to do the full job they were sent in to do so what was the point of them being there anymore?’"
A member of the Syrian Nation Council, Bassam Imadi, remarked that not only was he not surprised about the suspension, but also that acknowledgment of the failure of the mission was long overdue.
Others, such as the Political Chief of the Syrian Nation Council, Burhan Ghalioun, still have hope for the mission and the peace plan:
“I don't quite think that this plan is completely dead. I think there is the possibility of saving it by bringing UN Security Council to vote on a resolution invoking chapter 7 requesting a mandate under the threat of force…This could play a role in convincing the Syrian regime to fulfill and respect its commitments.”
But the Syrian regime continues to deny its role in the escalation of violence. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), according to the New York Times, reported Saturday “that the Syrian Foreign Ministry understood the decision to suspend the mission, adding that ‘armed terrorist groups’ – the standard government label for any opposition – had escalated attacks since the United Nations plan was signed.”
See more of Neon Tommy’s coverage on Syria here.