The United Nations said its observer mission in Syria has been suspended because the increasing violence poses “significant risks” to its staff.
“UN observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice,” Major General Robert Mood, head of the UN mission, said at a televised news conference yesterday. He said the suspension will be reviewed “on a daily basis,” adding that “a return to normal operations remains our objective.”
Efforts by President Bashar al-Assad to suppress what started as a peaceful opposition movement has pushed Syria into sectarian violence pitting the majority Sunnis against the Alawite leadership. More than 10,000 Syrians have died since the start of an uprising against the four-decade rule of Assad’s family.
The UN has 291 unarmed military observers and 89 civilian monitors in Syria to oversee a cease-fire plan crafted by UN special envoy Kofi Annan. The UN Security Council established the observer mission in April.
“There has been an intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past 10 days,” Mood said in a statement.
“The lack of willingness of the parties to seek a peaceful transition, and the push towards advancing military positions is increasing the losses on both sides: innocent civilians, men women and children are being killed every day,” the statement said. “It is also posing significant risks to our observers.”
Syrian security forces killed 63 people across country yesterday, Al Jazeera reported, citing activists. At least 20 Syrians were executed in public in Damascus suburb of Saqba by ’shabiha’ militia loyal to Assad, Al Jazeera said.
Insurgents, deploying guerrilla tactics such as ambushes and targeting army generals for assassination, are grabbing control of territory and relying on Persian Gulf nations for weapons. Pro-government forces are retaliating with increasing brutality, as shown in the massacres of Sunni civilians around Houla and in the village of Qubeir.
Syria will be part of the agenda at the Group of 20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, that begins tomorrow. Russia, an ally which is selling weapons to Assad and has protected him in the UN Security Council, is under renewed pressure from Western leaders led by the U.S., U.K. and France to use its influence to bring about a political transition.
Russia has responded by suggesting that Iran, another country with some sway over Assad, should join the negotiations at a conference to be held at the end of this month. UN envoy Kofi Annan has proposed that the meeting should take place in Geneva on June 30, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow July 15.
Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport is sending advanced defensive missile systems to Syria that could be used to shoot down airplanes or sink ships if the nation is attacked, the New York Times reported, citing an interview June 15 with Anatoly P. Isaykin, the general director of the company. The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on the report.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the issue on the sidelines of the summit, according to Ben Rhodes, deputy U.S. national security adviser.
“At this critical juncture, we are consulting with our international partners regarding next steps toward a Syrian-led political transition,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said yesterday in a statement.