Syria: Increased bloodshed threatens to force UN observer mission out
The head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria said yesterday that a recent spike in bloodshed is derailing the mission and could prompt peacekeepers to pull out of the country.
Major General Robert Mood warned that both sides were increasingly unwilling to seek a peaceful solution and were instead pushing for military advances.
The UN mission is the only functioning part of an international peace plan that Kofi Annan brokered two months ago.
The presence of observers is considered critical to understanding the conflict in a country where the government prevents reporters from operating independently.
“Violence over the past ten days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers,” the Norwegian Major General said in Damascus. “The escalating violence is now limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects.”
Mood also said there was a concern among the states providing observers that the risk is approaching an unacceptable level for continuing the mission.
Yesterday, the Syrian regime kept up a ferocious offensive on rebel areas across the country this week to reclaim territory held by rebels. An activist in the northern city of Aleppo said troops backed by helicopters and tanks were engaged in “raging battles” in the rebel-held town of Anadan and several other locations in the province.
The violence did not stop thousands of Syrians in Aleppo city, and other areas throughout the country from demonstrating against president Bashar Assad yesterday.
Eight protesters were killed in the southern town of Busra al-Sham after Syrian forces fired a shell near the Khaled Bin Walid mosque, according to activists and amateur videos that appeared to show bloodied men sprawled lifeless on a street.
More than 20 people were reported killed when security forces opened fire on protests across the country, but the toll could not be independently verified. One area that Syrian forces have recently reclaimed is Haffa, which they overran on Wednesday. They pushed out hundreds of rebels from the town in the coastal Latakia province, after intense battles that lasted eight days.
The UN observers have reported a steep rise in violence in Syria in recent weeks. Maj Gen Mood said there appears to be a lack of willingness to seek a peaceful transition.
He said: “Instead there is a push toward advancing military positions. What we have seen on the ground is that the attacks by the armed opposition on official buildings and government checkpoints are becoming more effective and the government is taking great losses.”
An international rights watchdog, meanwhile, accused Syrian government forces of using sexual violence to torture men, women and boys detained during the uprising. In a report released yesterday, Human Rights Watch quoted witnesses and victims as saying that soldiers and pro-government armed militias sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 during raids.
“Sexual violence in detention is one of many horrific weapons in the Syrian government’s torture arsenal,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
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