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UN observers committed to staying the course in Syria

The head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said Tuesday that UN forces were committed to staying in the strife-torn country, after the mission suspended operations Saturday due to intensifying violence.

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AP - The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said Tuesday that U.N. forces have come under fire multiple times recently but are committed to staying in the strife-torn country.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood said after a private briefing of the Security Council that questions about canceling the mission were premature and noted, “We are not going anywhere.”

The U.N. said Saturday its 300 observers based in Syria were suspending all missions because of concerns for their safety after fighting intensified over the previous 10 days.

“Shelling, small arms fire and other incidents are coming much closer, and we have been targets several times over the last few weeks,” Mood said. It was not only dangerous to his observers, but made it difficult to carry out their mission.

A U.N. diplomat who was at the briefing, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the briefing was closed, said Mood told the council the observers have suffered direct fire at least 10 times, have been in several indirect fire incidents, and nine UN vehicles were damaged or struck by small arms fire.

Major General Robert Mood

Mood spoke after briefing the U.N. Security Council during a closed meeting on the situation in Syria, where shelling and clashes between rebel fighters and government troops in Homs have continued.

“The suffering of the Syrian people, the suffering of men, women and children, some of them trapped by fighting, is getting worse,” Mood told reporters.

Mood did not attribute the suspension of the mission to any single incident, but said that among the issues was the inability of the observers to get through an angry crowd that mobbed their motorcade in the town of Haffa on June 12, when their motorcade was attacked by mobs with stones and metal rods and blocked by gunfire. The source of the gunfire was not clear.

Activists blamed regime loyalists for the attack. The violence raised questions about the ability of about 300 unarmed monitors to provide a useful assessment of a country that is spiraling toward civil war.

Reviving the mission would require a reduction in violence and a commitment from both the Syrian government and the opposition to “freedom of movement” for the U.N. observers, Mood said.

While the Syrian government had given him such assurances in the last few days. “I have not seen the same clear statement from the opposition yet.”

Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, said that Mood’s briefing was “well-balanced,” and called on all interested parties to push for the resumption of Mood’s mission.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who also briefed the council, added: “For the time being we have decided, however not to touch, not to modify, but to rather retain the integrity of the mission and its mandate. We must be aware that a number of diplomatic initiatives are under way, bilateral and multilateral.”

The diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said Mood told the council that the observers are trying to facilitate a local cease-fire in Homs.

The diplomat added that Mood told the council there has been little or no effort to ensure civilian protection by the Syrian government, and there has been no increase in the pace and scale of release of people who are arbitrarily detained.

Mood told the council, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity, that twice Syria announced the release of 500 detained persons, but the observers saw two groups of 230 and 100-plus released and few key leaders.

Mood said that on a smaller scale the opposition is depriving liberty to individuals too, the diplomat said.

Opposition groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

 

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