DAMASCUS / ISTANBUL
Syrian troops pounded besieged districts of the flashpoint city of Homs yesterday, as U.N. observers declared on June 16 that they had suspended their patrols in the country due to a recent spike in violence.
A watchdog reported that 15 people had been killed in violence across Syria yesterday, taking the weekend death toll to 84. A civilian was killed in the rebel stronghold of Khalidiyeh, which, like other parts of the central city, had been “shelled since this morning and shot at by regime forces who have been trying to take control of these districts,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A rebel fighter was killed in a clash with regime troops in the Karm Shamsham neighborhood of Homs, while another man was shot dead by a sniper in the Old City. “They are shelling us all the time. There’s very little food and water, and we’re running out of medication,” said activist Abu Bilal.
The Observatory has said that more than 1,000 families were trapped in Homs, adding that there was a lack of medical staff and equipment.
The escalating violence in Syria forced U.N. observers to suspend operations on June 16, in the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan has collapsed.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the U.N. mission chief, said the fighting posed a threat to his unarmed observers, one of whose patrols was fired upon four days ago, and prevented them from carrying out their mandate to oversee Annan’s widely ignored April 12 ceasefire.
The Norwegian peacekeeper blamed both government troops and rebels for the relentless conflict, in which President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are trying to crush an increasingly well-armed insurgency.
“There has been an intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past 10 days,” Mood said.
“The lack of willingness by the parties to seek a peaceful transition, and the push towards advancing military positions is increasing the losses on both sides.”
Diplomats say Mood is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council today or tomorrow about the unrest in Syria, which the head of U.N. peacekeeping described this week as a full-scale civil war.
The observers will not leave the country but will remain in place and simply cease patrols, Mood said in a taped statement, adding that the suspension would be reviewed on a daily basis.
New measure needed: Davutoğlu
British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed “regret” at the suspension, saying that it “calls into serious question the viability of the U.N. mission.” His Turkish counterpart Ahmed Davutoğlu called for tougher U.N. action.
“In the event that this observer mission pulls back, there is need for the U.N. Security Council to immediately do a situation assessment and take a new measure to ensure the humanitarian tragedy does not move onto a next level,” he said.
“The announcement [of suspension] came at a time we were expecting an increase in the number of observers and a more effective deployment on the ground,” Davutoğlu said.
He also spoke of the risks to the observers, which he said necessitated a re-evaluation by the Security Council “to secure the presence of the U.N. on the ground with a more effective mandate,” without elaborating.
Meanwhile, the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC), the country’s main opposition group called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to arm the observers. The SNC urged in a written statement the Security Council to “intervene quickly, and to pass a resolution under Chapter VII [of the U.N. Charter] to arm the U.N. monitors, so that they can defend themselves ... and ensure that the regime stops killing, while enforcing [Annan’s] peace plan.”Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.