The head of United Nations peacekeeping operations told the Security Council on Tuesday that violence in Syria has escalated to a point where it was too dangerous for the world body's 300 unarmed monitors to resume their mission to observe and report on cease-fire violations.
"The ongoing violence continues to prevent UNSMIS [the monitoring mission] from carrying out its mandated tasks to monitor and report on the cessation of violence," peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told a closed meeting of the Security Council, according to a U.N. official.
The mission's mandate expires in less than a month, and Ladsous and an Arab League envoy who also addressed the diplomatic gathering reportedly indicated that unless fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel factions ceases, the United Nations won't recommend extending the monitors' presence.
Norwegian Gen. Robert Mood, commander of the monitoring mission, pulled the observers back to their quarters June 16, declaring the work too dangerous as both sides in the 16-month-old conflict ignore a peace plan drafted by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
Mood reported to the Security Council that the monitors had been directly fired on at least 10 times before their patrols were suspended, and that nine U.N. vehicles had sustained damage from small-arms fire or roadside bombs. None of the monitors have been injured in the attacks, he said.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters after the Security Council session that Ladsous and Arab League special envoy Nasser Kidwa gave accounts of the security situation that were "very frank, very objective, and of course their description of the situation in Syria was extremely grim."
Churkin declined to confirm that the officials had recommended abandoning the monitoring mission, the only organized presence of the international community in the war-torn country.
Churkin did confirm that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had accepted Annan's invitation to meet with other world leaders in Geneva on Saturday and called on other permanent members of the Security Council to respect the former U.N. secretary-general's plan seeking an end to the Syrian violence.
Lavrov has proposed, and Annan has endorsed, including Iran in the "contact group" of nations trying to stop the fighting in Syria, where more than 10,000 people have been killed since Assad's opponents began a campaign to oust him in March 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has rejected the idea of including Iran, a key ally of Assad, saying that Tehran is too much a part of the problem for Middle East security to contribute anything positive to the diplomacy on Syria.
Churkin's comments appeared to put pressure on Washington to take part in the Geneva meeting called by Annan. A U.S. boycott would probably scuttle the chances of a breakthrough on Syria and cast Washington as putting a new obstacle in the path of the U.N. and Arab League peace efforts.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: U.N. observers at their residence in Damascus' Dama Rose Hotel, to which they have been confined since June 16 because violence has escalated to a point where it is too dangerous for them to patrol and report cease-fire violations. Credit: Youssef Badawi / European Pressphoto Agency