Mood: UN Team Will Stay in Syria

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 9:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The head of the United Nations monitoring mission in Syria told the Security Council Tuesday his team has been repeatedly targeted by gunfire but is committed to staying in the war-torn country.

Major General Robert Mood of Norway said Tuesday that questions about canceling the mission were premature, noting “We are not going anywhere.”

U.N. diplomats present at the briefing said General Mood told the council his 300-strong unarmed observer team had been targeted by indirect fire on a daily basis and at least 10 times by direct fire. He said at least nine U.N. vehicles had been damaged.

Mood and U.N. peacekeeping chief Harve Ladsous said the U.N. mission in Syria was suspended on Saturday due to escalating violence, but team members did not leave the country. The decision was the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan has collapsed.

In Los Cabos, Mexico, meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama said Russia and China have “not signed on” to any plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's removal from power but that both countries' leaders recognize the dangers of an all-out civil war.

Mr. Obama said the Syrian leader has lost all legitimacy and that it is impossible to conceive of any solution to the violence that leaves him in power. He acknowledged the lack of any breakthrough with the leaders of Russia or China, despite intensive talks.

Moscow and Beijing are long-time allies of Syria and have shielded Mr. Assad from U.N. sanctions sought by Western and Arab powers who oppose his 11-year autocratic rule.

Earlier Tuesday, Britain said a Russian ship believed to be carrying arms to Syria turned back after a British insurance company cancelled its coverage.

The move effectively halted the vessel, tracked off the northwest coast of Scotland, from continuing to its destination unless another insurer agreed to cover it. An EU arms embargo on Syria prevents insurers from covering the ship.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament Tuesday the vessel appears to have turned back toward Russia.

Meanwhile, Syria says it is ready to act on a U.N. appeal to evacuate civilians from the central city of Homs, which government forces have bombarded since early June to try to crush a 15-month anti-government uprising.

General Mood has appealed to Syrian government and rebel forces to allow women, children and the wounded to flee Homs and other combat zones. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said dozens of wounded people are stuck in Homs and other rebel-dominated areas without medicine or doctors.

The Security Council agreed to send the observer mission to Syria in April to monitor government and rebel compliance with a U.N.-backed cease-fire agreement, but the truce never took hold. The observers' 90-day mandate expires in mid-July.