UN Observers in Syria Suspend Operations
BEIRUT – U.N. observers in Syria suspended their activities and patrols Saturday because of escalating violence in the country, the head of the mission said, the strongest sign yet that an international peace plan for Syria is disintegrating.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood said rising bloodshed over the past 10 days was posing significant risks to the lives of the 300 unarmed observers in the country, and was impeding their ability to carry out their mandate.
The observers were sent to the country after international envoy Kofi Annan brokered a peace plan that included a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect on April 12. But both sides have continued to stage daily attacks and the observers themselves have been caught up in the violence on several occasions.
The U.N. observers have been the only working part of Annan's the plan, which the international community sees as its only hope to stop the bloodshed. They were initially sent to monitor compliance with the cease-fire but ultimately became the most independent witnesses the carnage between government and rebel forces that have largely ignored the truce.
The Syrian government, intent on wresting back control of rebel-held areas, launched a fierce offensive in recent days to recover territories in several locations, shelling heavily populated districts and using attack helicopters over towns and cities.
U.N. officials have said that the opposition, in turn, is increasingly coordinating attacks against government forces and civilian infrastructure.
On Saturday, government troops kept up their relentless shelling of rebel-held districts in the central city of Homs, killing at least five. Another 12, including a man, his wife and child, were killed in overnight shelling of suburbs of the capital Damascus.
"U.N. observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice," Mood said in a statement Saturday. He said the observers will not leave the country, and the suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis.
"Operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities," he said.
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