UN Security Council Approves Sending Observers to Syria

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously backed sending 300 unarmed observers to Syria to monitor a cease-fire agreement between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel groups fighting to oust him as violence continued.

The resolution 2043, sponsored by Russia and China, nations that objected to tougher U.S. backed measures against Syria, will allow monitors to be deployed for an initial period of 90 days, according to a text of the resolution.

The resolution urges Syria to “implement visibly” the cease-fire commitment, to stop troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in population centers, and to return troops to their barracks. The observers also will oversee the release of political detainees, the start of political talks, and ensure access to humanitarian agencies. The resolution contains no sanctions or other penalties for Syria if it violates the cease-fire.

“No one should assume the U.S. will agree to renew this mission at the end of the 90 days,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN said today. If there’s no “meaningful progress” and Syria prevents the work of the monitors “then we must conclude that this mission has run its course,” Rice said. U.S. patience toward Syria is “exhausted,” and the U.S. won’t wait three months to pursue other courses of action, she said.

The observers will begin their mission only after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon makes an assessment that the situation in Syria is “right” and the deployment will begin “over the course of the next few days and weeks,” Mark Lyall Grant, the U.K.’s envoy to UN, said today.

NATO Possibility

The U.S. has raised the possibility of getting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization involved in the Syrian conflict. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said NATO-member Turkey may invoke the alliance’s charter provision seeking such an intervention because Syrian refugees are pouring across the border into Turkey.

Russia opposes military intervention in Syria, saying NATO misused a UN mandate, intended to protect civilians, to bring about regime change in Libya last year that resulted in the killing of leader Muammar Qaddafi.

“Any deviation from the provisions is unacceptable,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the UN, said after today’s Security Council vote on Syria. “The Libyan model should always be something that remains in the past,” Churkin said.

9,000 People Killed

As the U.S. and Gulf states demand that Syria’s Assad step down, Russia has shielded his regime, its biggest Middle East ally and buyer of 8 percent of the country’s arms exports.

Russia lost $4 billion in weapons contracts with Qaddafi’s overthrow, according to Sergey Chemezov, head of state-run Russian Technologies Corp. OAO Russian Railways had to suspend building a $1.5 billion railroad linking Sirte and Benghazi.

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 9,000 people since March last year, according to UN estimates. Syria’s state forces killed 21 people in the country today, al Jazeera television reported, citing activists. An explosion was heard inside the Mazzeh military airport in Damascus, the Observatory for Human Rights in Syria said in an e-mailed statement. Gunfire followed the airport blast, and security forces sealed off the main road leading to Damascus, Al Jazeera reported.

Observers’ Mission

The unarmed UN mission is “fraught with risk and will fail in its task” if Assad’s government “continues to violate its commitments and obstruct the work of the mission,” U.K. envoy Grant said. Syria’s continued failure and hindrance must “be met with robust sanctions by this council,” he said.

The resolution calls on Syria to ensure the safety of the observers and also provide “appropriate air transportation assets” for them to travel in the country. Syria may provide the airplanes in the first stage of the mission and UN aircraft may be deployed later, Grant said. The UN and Syria have yet to agree on the use of airplanes, he said.

More than 61,000 Syrian refugees and their hosts -- Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq -- “are beginning to show signs of strain,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Children are the worst affected and show “signs of trauma and grave distress,” the agency said.

The international community hasn’t fulfilled its month-old, $84 million humanitarian-aid pledge, delivering less than 20 percent of the funds to help respond to the Syrian crisis, UNHCR said. The agency was able to fund eight of the 34 organizations that sought aid.

The U.S., which along with European and Arab allies is backing the Syrian rebels, is considering working with Turkey to set up an “assistance hub” on the Turkish-Syrian border to coordinate aid for opposition groups, Clinton said in Paris April 19.

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