UN suspends activities in Syria

UN observers in Syria suspended their activities and patrols yesterday because of escalating violence in the country, the head of the mission said, in the strongest sign yet that an international peace plan is disintegrating.

Major-Gen Robert Mood said rising bloodshed over the past ten days was posing significant risks to the lives of the some 300 observers, and was impeding their ability to carry out their mandate.

The observers were sent to the country after international envoy Kofi Annan brokered a peace plan that included a ceasefire that was supposed to take effect on 12 April. But both sides have continued to stage daily attacks and the observers themselves have been caught up in the violence on several occasions.

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“UN observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice,” he said in yesterday’s statement. He said the observers will not leave the country, and the suspension will be reviewed daily.

“Operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities,” he said.

The suspension signals the unravelling of Annan’s plan as the conflict that began in March 2011 with peaceful protests challenging the regime spirals closer toward civil war. Activists say some 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Western powers have pinned their hopes on the plan, in part because there are no other options on the table. The international community has little appetite for the military intervention that helped oust Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and several rounds of sanctions have failed to stop the bloodshed.

“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,” Mood said. “It is also posing significant risks to our observers.”

The observers have been tasked with monitoring the ceasefire and supporting the full implementation of Annan’s six-point plan, which was supposed to lead to talks between the sides.

Last week, an observers’ convoy was blocked and attacked as it was trying to head to the town of Haffa in the coastal Latakia region, where troops had been battling rebels for a week.

Last night the White House said it was consulting with international partners on “next steps” in the Syrian crisis. “We call again on the Syrian regime to uphold its commitments under the Annan plan, including the full implementation of a ceasefire,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.