The head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria (UNSMIS)
General Robert Mood told journalists in Damascus Saturday that he was
suspending operations and that observers would stay put and stop
conducting patrols “until further notice.”
The decision to suspend the six-week-old mission came after repeated
expressions of concern for the safety of 300 or so members of the team.
A group of observers came under attack several days ago when it went to
visit the town of al-Haffeh in Latakiya.
Several U.N. observer teams were also targets of roadside bombs, one in
Dara'a, and the other near Homs. No observers have been killed or
seriously injured. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, however, has
said that the observers are “one [explosion] away from a disaster.”
Norwegian General Robert Mood, a veteran of many other U.N. peacekeeping
missions, insisted that he made his decision to suspend the mission due
to security concerns.
"In this high-risk situation, UNSMIS is suspending its operations. U.N.
observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their
locations until further notice," he announced. "Engagement with the
parties will be restricted. This suspension will be reviewed on a daily
basis. Operations will resume when we see the situation fit..."
Annan peace plan
The U.N. observer mission is part of a six-point peace plan and
cease-fire worked out by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The
cease-fire has slowly unraveled in the six weeks since it first took
effect. The Security Council must decide whether to renew the mission by
Goksel, veteran former spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, says
that only the U.N. can end the observer mission, but that its head can
suspend operations temporarily.
"They are not pulling them out," noted Goksel. "They are just suspending
their operations for the time being. There is no pulling out. That will
be decided by the [U.N.] Security Council. The mission cannot pull out
by itself, and this is completely within the prerogatives of the mission
chief. If he feels that his guys are in danger he's perfectly entitled
to suspend operations as long he wants."
Goksel added that it is also possible that the U.N. observer mission
“came under some sort of political pressure” but he argued the
suspension is most likely “based on security concerns.”
Witnesses report that Syrian government forces stepped up their shelling
of a number of towns and cities Saturday, including Homs, Telbiseh,
Rastan and the Damascus suburb of Douma. France has also warned of a
possible “impending attack on Homs.”