Increasing bloodshed leads to suspension of UN observer mission in Syria

UN observers in Syria have suspended their patrols and activities. The mission chief cites escalating violence in the Arab country, where both opposition and regime forces are striving for military gains rather than a peaceful resolution.

A sharp rise in the bloodshed has derailed the mission "to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects," said the head of the UN observers. The ability of the unarmed force to defuse the year-long conflict, which every day looks more like a civil war, is in doubt.

There appears to be a "lack of willingness" from Syria's government and opposition to seek peace, continued the leader of the contingent, Norwegian General Robert Mood. Instead the mission sees "a push towards advancing military positions."

"Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," General Mood told reporters in Damascus.

The 300 observers will not be conducting patrols, says General Mood, but will stay in their locations in the country “until further notice.” The suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis, but the mission is still ready to resume its mandated activities when the situation in the country grows fit.

The suspension is the latest blow to international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition have both ignored the proposed ceasefire, which was supposed to go into effect April 12.

Russia still regards Annan’s six-point plan as a crucial factor in resolving the Syrian crisis, which is estimated to have taken over 10,000 lives in over a year. The UN monitors’ security should be a priority to all the parties to the conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Kofi Annan on Saturday.

UN observers in Syria were first attacked on June 13 as the mission was trying to enter the town of Al-Heffa. They had gone there after government troops overran the area near the Mediterranean coast, seizing it back from rebels after battles that raged for eight days. Locals threw stones at the UN vehicle and fired several shots. This prompted the UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to say the crisis in Syria has grown into “a civil war.

Russian ships on standby

­Moscow says the Russian Black Sea fleet is on standby, ready to sail to Syria’s port of Tartus in the event Russian citizens living in Syria requiring evacuation.

US media speculate a Russian military vessel is already making way to the Tartus, which Moscow uses as a Mediterranean naval base. The ship is reportedly carrying weapons to resupply Russia's defenses at the base.

All our ships are at their base in Sevastopol except the big landing craft vessel Ceasar Kunikov, but it is sailing in the opposite direction: from the Mediterranean back to the Black Sea. On Saturday it will dock in Sevastopol,” a source in Russia’s Joint Staff told Itar-Tass news agency.

The source has confirmed that if the Tartus naval base requires protection, the Black Sea Fleet is quite likely to be assigned with the task.

Several ships of the Black Sea Fleet are on full alert to sail out, this includes big landing craft vessels with naval troops aboard,” said the official.

Russia’s Air Forces will support the Navy in their possible mission to Tartus, if a relevant order is issued.

We should protect our nationals. I am sure we will not abandon Russians and evacuate them from the conflict area if required,” Air Force Chief Deputy Vladimir Gradusov told reporters on Saturday.

A Russian warship found itself “en route” to Syria in American news outlets just several days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Syria, a move she said escalated violence in the Arab country. On Thursday however this lost steam as the State Department acknowledged the helicopters were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that Moscow is only providing Syria with defense weapons coming under old contracts. The refurbishment of the helicopters supplied many years ago had been planned some timein advance.