UN observers suspend their mission in Syria
UN observers suspended their mission to Syria yesterday, blaming intensifying violence as troops rained shells down on rebel bastions including Homs, where the opposition warned a massacre was imminent.
The unarmed observers have been targeted almost daily since deploying in mid-April to monitor a UN-backed but widely flouted ceasefire, and they were likened to “sitting ducks in a shooting gallery” by Susan Rice, the US envoy to the UN.
Explaining the decision, mission head Major General Robert Mood spoke of an escalation in fighting and of the risk to his 300-strong team, as well as the “lack of willingness” for peace by the warring parties.
“There has been an intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past 10 days,” General Mood said in a statement.
“This escalation is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects – basically impeding our ability to carry out our mandate.
“The lack of willingness by the parties to seek a peaceful transition, and the push towards advancing military positions is increasing the losses on both sides: innocent civilians, men women and children are being killed every day.
“It is also posing significant risks to our observers.
“In this high risk situation, UNSMIS (UN Supervision Mission in Syria) is suspending its activities,” Mood said.
The observers “will not conduct patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice,” he said, adding that “engagement with the parties will be restricted.”
Mood said the suspension would be reviewed daily, and that “operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities.” Reacting to the news, Burhan Ghalioun, the former head of the opposition Syrian National Council, urged the UN to send “peacekeepers to Syria on a mission with more people who would be able to protect themselves from the violence of the regime.”
In a statement, the SNC itself warned of a looming massacre in the flashpoint central city of Homs, which it said is besieged by 30,000 troops and pro-regime militiamen.
“Regime forces are escalating their shelling of the city of Homs in an unprecedented way,” said the SNC, adding troops were “getting ready to carry out a savage attack that might massacre the city’s remaining residents.”