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Frustrations mount for U.N. observers in Syria [Video]

June 5, 2012 | 12:34 pm

BEIRUT -- With no end in sight to the violence in Syria, frustration appears to be growing among both residents and United Nations observers on the ground.

In a video posted by CNN, U.N. Commandant Mark Hearns laments during a meeting with rebels that the observers are unable to do more to stop the bloodshed.

"We are also very frustrated with what we cannot do," Hearn declared in the video when pressed by residents of the hard-hit city of Quseir about when the killing would stop.

Fighting has occurred in many different areas of Syria. It is physically impossible for the limited U.N. monitoring staff -- 291 unarmed observers and 90 U.N. civilians -- to respond quickly to every report of violence.

The U.N. teams, which are supposed to be overseeing implementation of a U.N.-brokered peace plan, also face considerable danger.

The monitors’ presence, however, has altered the dynamic somewhat. The observers were able to document the massacre of more than 100 people, mostly women and children, killed in the township of Houla, an event that drew worldwide condemnation of the Syrian government -- even though the the regime of President Bashar Assad denied responsibility. Residents do report a lull in attacks when monitors are present, though mayhem may resume once they pull out.

On Tuesday, U.N. observers again toured Quseir, according to opposition activists. The community of roughly 30,000 people has been the scene of large anti-government protests and hosts many military deserters and other insurgents.

In one video, Hadi Abdallah, an opposition activist, declares, "We will not show the observers all the destroyed buildings. We will just take them to the areas that have been destroyed since their last visit." In another video posted to YouTube, an opposition activist begs one of the observers to visit another devastated zone, but the observers say, “Another time."

Four people were killed on Tuesday in Quseir, Abdallah said Tuesday when reached by Skype. 

"I frankly told the observers on Tuesday that there is a frustration with their performance,” Abdallah said. “First of all, when we contact them when a massacre happens and we beg them to come, they always find an excuse that they are either busy or that the regime is not allowing them to move at night or that it is too dangerous for them so they leave us dying."

When reports of the Houla massacre surfaced, Abdallah said he personally contacted the observer team  based in the nearby city of Homs, the hard-hit provincial capital. The observers, however, did not arrive until the day after the killing spree.

"If they had come earlier they wouldn't have needed a committee to investigate the massacre,” Abdallah said, “they would have seen it with their own eyes.”

Another online video purports to show the government shelling of Quseir after the observers left. What sound like explosions can be heard in the background.

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-- Rima Marrouch

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