United Nations monitors prepared to leave Syria today after the failure of their four-month mission, while the organization’s newly appointed envoy described the country’s conflict as a civil war.
The 173-strong UN mission ended work yesterday and the last military observer will depart by Aug. 24, Edmond Mulet, assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, said after the Security Council decided not to renew its mandate on Aug. 16.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister appointed to revive the UN’s peace effort, yesterday told the France24 television news channel that he wanted to see whether serious dialogue was feasible.
“A lot of people say we must avoid civil war in Syria -- I think we are already there, we have been for quite some time now,” he said. “What’s needed is to end the civil war, and that won’t be easy.”
While the UN has agreed to keep a liaison office in Syria, the departure of its military monitors marks the end of the organization’s hopes that a cease-fire between the government of Bashar al-Assad and its armed opponents might be close. More than 23,000 people have died during the 17-month conflict, including more than 16,000 civilians and 5,800 soldiers, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Both sides have chosen the path of war, open conflict, and the space for political dialogue and cessation of hostilities, mediation, is very reduced,” the UN’s Mulet said. “But that doesn’t mean we should not be engaged in that.”
A diplomatic impasse continues as the U.S. and its European allies seek to force Assad to step down, while Russia and China have vetoed UN resolutions designed to accelerate his departure.
Brahimi told the Associated Press yesterday that he doesn’t have a plan to achieve consensus within the Security Council. He formally takes over the role on Aug. 31 when Kofi Annan’s term ends.
About 160 people were killed in Syria yesterday and fighting in several towns and cities continued early today, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone. Today’s clashes have left about 29 dead, mostly in Daraa, Dubai-based Al Arabiya reported, citing the Revolutionary Authority, an opposition group. Rebels are pushing forward with attacks and control large areas of the country.
Syrian refugee numbers in Turkey have now reached about 70,000, Ershad Hurmuzlu, an adviser to President Abdullah Gul told Arabiya television today. Last week, the UN estimated Turkey was housing about 60,000 Syrians.
Assad was meanwhile shown on Syria state television yesterday praying in a Damascus mosque to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.