UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The chief U.N. monitor for Syria told the Security Council on Tuesday that his military observers were repeatedly targeted by hostile crowds and gunfire at close range last week before his decision to suspend the mission’s operations.
General Robert Mood of Norway told the 15-nation council behind closed doors that his 300-strong unarmed observer force was targeted with gunfire or by hostile crowds at least 10 times last week, U.N. diplomats present at the meeting told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Mood said that “indirect fire” incidents in which gunfire struck within 300 to 400 meters (yards) of observers occurred on a daily basis, envoys said. Last week, nine vehicles of the observer mission, known as UNSMIS, were struck or damaged, they added.
One diplomat said Mood spoke of “several hundred indirect fire incidents.”
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said last week that after 15 months of fighting between government forces and what began as a peaceful opposition demanding reforms and the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, Syria was now in the throes of a full-scale civil war.
Days after Ladsous made that announcement in an interview with Reuters and AFP, Mood declared that UNSMIS had suspended operations. It was the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan has collapsed.
After the council meeting, Mood was asked by reporters why he suspended the mission’s operations. “I made that decision based on the risks on the ground and based on the fact that the risks made it difficult to implement mandated tasks,” he said.
He said UNSMIS would only resume full operations if there were a significant reduction in the level of violence and both the opposition and government voiced their commitment to the observers’ safety and freedom of movement.
“The government has expressed that very clearly in the last couple of days,” he said. “I have not seen the same clear statement from the opposition yet.”
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja‘afari blamed the escalation of violence on “armed groups” and “terrorists” and reiterated Damascus’ commitment to Annan’s peace plan. He also rejected Ladsous’ remarks that Syria was now in an all-out civil war.
“The only way to push forward is to guarantee the success of the six-point plan of Mr. Kofi Annan,” he said.
Ladsous also addressed the council and emphasized that the situation on the ground was too dangerous to allow the monitors to conduct normal patrols.
“Mood and Ladsous basically said that violence is escalating and that conditions are not met at present to allow the mission to run normally (and) safely enough,” a diplomat said.
Ladsous told reporters that UNSMIS had suspended “most activities of the mission” due to what he described as “extremely serious security concerns.”
Some Western diplomats have suggested that there was little point in having UNSMIS remain in Syria when Assad’s government has not only ignored former U.N. chief Annan’s peace plan but has stepped up its military assaults to seize rebel-held territory.
The rebels have said they no longer felt bound by an April 12 truce that Annan brokered but which never took hold. The opposition has also stepped up its military operations, contributing to an overall escalation in the violence.
Ladsous said UNSMIS’ 90-day mandate expires on July 20. He declined to say whether he expected the council to extend it.
“We shall see in due course before July 20 what the Security Council’s decision is on that,” he said.
He added that the United Nations remained committed to Annan’s peace plan, which he said was the only peace proposal under consideration at the moment.
“There’s no other game in town,” Ladsous said. “There’s no plan B.”
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Peter Cooney