Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria, issued a statement on Saturday that the mission is suspended due to rising violence. The 298 military observers are unable to carry out their mandate and will remain in their locations in Syria “until further notice.” Gen. Mood emphasized that the violence has escalated in the past ten days.
Early in May, Gen. Mood’s own convoy just missed being hit by a roadside bomb — a Syrian military truck was struck instead — in southern Syria. The following week, observers’ cars were damaged by a roadside bomb in the northern town of Khan Sheikoun, where the observers were meeting with rebels opposing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, observers were prevented from entering the town of Haffa in the coastal Latakia region to investigate reports of a massacre and shots were fired at their convoy.
The observers have been in Syria as part of the six-point peace plan negotiated by Kofi Annan, the special envoy to the UN. The plan had called for a cease-fire starting April 12 but neither the Syrian regime nor the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has honored it.
The New York Times observes that the suspension of the observers’ mission is “the latest sign that a peace plan brokered by Mr. Annan is disintegrating.” But the continued bloodshed including the Houla massacre in which 108 were slain, including dozens of children has cast serious doubt on Annan’s peace plan for weeks. As the BBC’s Jim Muir frankly observes, the suspension of the observer mission is a sure sign that Annan’s peace plan “has hit the rocks, and greatly increases the pressure on international diplomacy to salvage it.”
Members of the Syrian opposition have expressed deep frustation with the peace mission. Activist Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the New York Times that it was better that the observers, who “couldn’t do anything,” simply leave. Reporting from Istanbul where opposition activists are meeting on Sunday, Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught describes a “lack of surprise on the whole” about the suspension of the UN mission, whose efforts have consistently been blocked by Assad’s regime.
McNaught suggested that the suspension of the UN mission could put pressure on China and Russia, who have insisted on Annan’s peace plan being carried out and refused efforts by the UN Security Council to demand that Assad step down. International powers have clung to the plan and to a diplomatic solution as it has been and is the only option; there has been no request for military intervention like that in Libya.
Activists reported that the central city of Homs and parts of the capital of Damascus were shelled overnight.
Over 10,000 people have died in the Syrian uprising since it began in March of 2011, says the UN.
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