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Friday, August 17, 2012

UN to close Syria observer mission

Observers will be removed within days, with plans to set up a smaller political office to monitor events. UN staff will be ready to leave Syria within the next few days as the world body ends its observer mission [File: AFP] The United Nations has ordered the end of its observer mission in Syria, and said that it would withdraw its staff within the next few days. "The conditions to continue UNSMIS were not fulfilled," said Gerard Araud, France's ambassador to the UN, referring to the mission by its acronym. Edmond Mulet, from the UN peacekeeping department, told reporters that the mission would "come to an end" at midnight on Sunday. Earlier this year, the United Nations authorised sending up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria to monitor a ceasefire that UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan negotiated with president Bashar al-Assad. But hostilities have only worsened since then, and the UN mission suspended its patrols on June 15, leaving the observers largely confined to their hotels. As of Thursday, the number had been cut to 101 observers and 72 civilian staff. Mulet said the last observer would leave Damascus on Friday next week. Brahimi 'accepts' mediator role The Security Council did back a plan by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to start a political liaison office in Damascus to monitor events. Mulet told reporters it would probably be between 20 and 30 people, with political, humanitarian and military experts taking part. He added that Assad had approved setting up the office. Deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army tells Al Jazeera the country 'needs world's help right now' Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador at the UN, said an action group will meet on Friday to call for an end to the violence. Russia did not want to wind down the monitoring mission. "We believe that those members of the council who insisted that the UNSMIS can't continue did not really show a commitment to ending hostilities," Churkin said. Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has agreed in principle to replace Annan as the international mediator on Syria, UN sources said on Thursday. Annan is stepping down at the end of August after six months in the post because he said his Syria peace plan was hampered by a divided and deadlocked UN Security Council. Diplomats told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity that Brahimi, who has previously served in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been undecided for days about whether to accept the offer of the post from Ban, did not want to be seen as a mere replacement of Annan but wanted an altered title and mandate. It was not clear when the official announcement would be made, envoys said. Dozens dead near Aleppo Some of the worst recent violence came in the rebel-controlled town of Azaz, about 45km north of Aleppo, where air attacks by the Syrian government killed at least 30 people. Researchers from Human Rights Watch put the death toll higher, at more than 40, with more than 100 wounded. In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria Witnesses and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces who reinforced security around the town after the raids said the jet fired twice, targeting a makeshift media centre used by foreign reporters in the second, smaller attack. Most of the injured from Wednesday's attack were driven directly to the Turkish border, 6km north. Dozens of people, many wailing and shouting, were climbing over the rubble, trying to pull out victims. "That's it, I'm leaving for Turkey with my family today. Life here is impossible," a witness, who gave his name as Jomaa, said. "If you come to the basement of my house now, there are 15 women who are afraid to go out. This is what Bashar does to us." The bombings did not appear to hit specific rebel targets, though one of the sites was about 1km away from the local rebels' political and media offices. "Bashar did this. God help us, these animals will kill us all," said one man, hoisting a bloodied arm that had been piled up on the pavement outside the hospital in Azaz after the bombardment. UN urged to send more Syria observers
Envoy Kofi Annan to brief security council amid fears that ceasefire could fail before full implementation of peace plan Members of the first UN monitoring team in Syria, with members of the Syrian Free Army, in Homs. Photograph: Reuters The UN is under pressure to move more quickly to send unarmed observers to Syria, amid fears that a tenuous ceasefire could collapse before the next stages of a peace plan can be implemented. Ten days after a UN resolution authorising the despatch of 30-strong "rapid response team", only 11 military observers are operating in Syria, where opposition sources said on Tuesday that 21 people had been killed by the security forces, and the government blamed a car bombing in central Damascus on "terrorists". Sana, the state news agency, said a Syrian intelligence officer and his brother were killed. in a suburb of the capital. Last weekend the UN security council approved the establishment of a 300-strong UN supervision mission in Syria, which it is hoped could start deploying next week. Diplomats say that Syria has been pressing for personnel to be drawn from countries that are friendly to it, such as Russia, China and India. Kofi Annan, the joint envoy for the UN and Arab League, was due to brief the security council later on Tuesday. Aides said he would focus on ceasefire violations in places like Hama, where government security forces opened fire on Monday after crowds on the same streets welcomed a UN team. Activists reported scores of dead, though there was no confirmation of this due to restrictions on the media. Annan's six-point plan calls for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from towns, humanitarian and media access, the release of prisoners and a "Syrian-led" process to discuss future political arrangements. The precarious and partial truce is the only element to have been implemented so far. "The expeditious deployment of the up-to-300 observers is crucial and will begin as soon as possible, subject to the assessment by the secretary-general of the situation on the ground," Annan's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said on Tuesday. The 11 observers – the only ones available at short notice – were drawn from other UN missions in the Middle East. Two have now been stationed in Hama province, the team reported. Annan's plan is often described as the only diplomatic route out of the 14-month Syrian crisis, which has already claimed around 10,000 lives. Its Syrian and foreign critics complain it plays into the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, allowing him to gain time and exploit divisions amongst his enemies at home and abroad. Its defenders ask what the alternative would be, given the lack of international appetite for another Libyan-style intervention. Syrian TV reported that a car bomb planted by "armed terrorist groups" had exploded in Martyrs Square in the centre of Damascus on Tuesday, injuring three people. But opposition activists quickly described it as a fake attack that had been orchestrated by the regime. The Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus said a TV cameraman escorted by security forces was on the scene moments after the blast, which caused only slight damage. The Syrian Revolution General Commission said that 11 of Tuesday's 21 dead were in Homs. Western and Arab foreign ministers meeting in Paris last week described the UN observer mission as a "last chance" for peace. The US said that if Damascus did not permit an adequate monitoring process, the security council should work towards imposing sanctions on Syria. But Russia and China have thus far blocked any moves to punish Damascus and insist they are backing the Annan plan.

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