Activists Say Rebels Kill 20 Syrian Soldiers; UN Team Will Stay

Posted June 20th, 2012 at 7:00 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say rebel fighters have killed at least 20 government soldiers in clashes overnight, while the head of a United Nations monitoring mission says his team is committed to staying in the war-torn country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday the fighting lasted for hours in the northwestern province, Latakia.

Major General Robert Mood of Norway said Tuesday the “suffering of the Syrian people” is getting worse and that questions about canceling the monitoring mission are premature.

“I remain committed with the mission in the positions we are currently in. We're not going anywhere.”

General Mood told the council his 300-strong unarmed observer team has been targeted several times in the last few weeks. He says at least nine U.N. vehicles have been damaged.

Mood and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the mission in Syria was suspended on Saturday because of 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.

Meanwhile, in Los Cabos, Mexico, 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 says 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 acknowledges 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 nearly 12-year autocratic rule.

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.