UN Observers Suspend Syrian Mission; Opposition Says Mission ‘Has Failed’

Posted June 16th, 2012 at 3:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Unarmed United Nations observers are will no longer be going out on patrol in Syria, where intensifying violence has made the situation too risky.

U.N. observer force commander Major General Robert Mood made the announcement Saturday, saying his people can do little good monitoring a cease-fire with both the government and the opposition stoking the conflict.

“U.N. observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice. Engagement with the parties will be restricted. This suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis.”

Syrian opposition officials meeting in Istanbul, including the Syrian National Council's Bassam Imadi, says the decision comes as no surprise.

“I think they are right to do so. And I think it is also high time to announce that the mission has failed – even the whole initiative of Mr. Annan has failed.''

The Syrian government also responded, saying it understood the decision, blaming the violence on forces it described as “terrorists.”

Meanwhile, amateur video posted on the Internet Saturday showed more violence, including what appeared to be evidence of heavy fighting in a suburb of the capital of Damascus and heavy shelling in the central province of Homs.

The U.N. has sent nearly 300 unarmed observers to Syria to monitor the implementation of a cease-fire brokered by U.N. and Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan. But the cease-fire has never taken hold and several days ago a team of observers came under attack when it went to visit the town of al-Haffeh in Latakiya. U.N. observer teams have also been targets of roadside bombs.

The decision to suspend observer operations leaves questions about what happens next. In Washington Saturday, a White House spokesman said the United States was consulting international partners on the “next steps.”

In Turkey Saturday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the U.N. Security Council to act.

“The U.N. Security Council must immediately consider this issue, not allowing the extension of this human tragedy, and take new measures. We are worried humanitarian-wise about the refugee flow to Turkey.”

Syrian National Council Political Chief Burhan Ghalioun, in Istanbul, said he was not ready to give up all hope but agreed the U.N. must change tactics.

“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.''

Timor Goksel, a former spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon says despite the move to suspend the observer mission, the U.N. is not abandoning Syria.

“They are not pulling them out. They are just suspending their operations for the time being. There is no pulling out. That will be decided by the (UN) Security Council. The mission cannot pull out by itself……and this is completely within the prerogatives of the mission chief. If he feels that his guys are in danger he's perfectly entitled to suspend their operations as long he wants.”

Still, the concerns are many. Some Syrian opposition officials meeting in Istanbul warn that a lack of unity among their various factions could also be the start of more trouble.

Opposition member Walid al-Bunni:

“I think this could be the latest (last) chance for the opposition to make some kind of unity and to bring a mutual vision about how could we overthrow this regime, and what kind of Syria we want about this regime. And what about the transitional period between the period after Assad and that first election being done in the country?''

Meanwhile, Russia has hardened its position against Western pressure to topple embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In Moscow Friday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia does “not get involved in overthrowing regimes – neither through approval of unilateral actions by the U.N. Security Council nor by participation in any political plots.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested Thursday that Washington and Moscow were discussing a post-Assad strategy in Syria.

Russia, along with China, has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions against Mr. Assad and has vowed to oppose any military intervention.


FILE VIDEO (not from today):