By Edward Yeranian
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 July 15.
Timor 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.”