20th June, 2012
DAMASCUS: The UN Security Council was to examine the future of its observer mission in violence-wracked Syria on Tuesday as civilians remained pinned down by regime shelling of rebel strongholds.
The mission’s leader Major General Robert Mood, whose 300 unarmed monitors suspended operations on Saturday because of escalating bloodshed, was to brief the Security Council.
More than 3,300 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the observers were deployed in Syria in mid-April. Their 90-day initial mandate runs out on July 20.
With civilians trapped by regime shelling of rebel bastions such as the central city of Homs, Mood has urged the government and opposition to let “women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones.”
And UN rights chief Navi Pillay has demanded a halt to government bombardment of populated areas. “Such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes,” Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 1,000 families are stranded in Homs, while the opposition Syrian National Council says Homs is under siege by thousands of soldiers and pro-regime militiamen.
The authorities on Tuesday said they had been working for the past week in coordination with the UN observers to arrange an evacuation but charged that “armed terrorist groups” were keeping civilians hostage.
Latest fighting between rebels and soldiers was centred on the Homs district of Baba Amr, which the regime captured in March, the Observatory said, adding that columns of black smoke were seen above the area and a pipeline blasted.
It said one soldier was killed and reported “intermittent shelling” of several neighbourhoods of the flashpoint city, while a civilian was shot dead overnight in the northern city of Aleppo during an anti-regime demonstration.
The Britain-based watchdog also reported similar clashes in the Idlib region near the border with Turkey where the army was using tankfire.
US President Barack Obama and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday called for an “immediate cessation of all violence.”
“In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence,” the two leaders said in a statement after meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
“We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future,” the leaders said.
Putin told reporters that he and Obama had found “many common points” on the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that monitors say has cost more than 14,400 lives.
Obama said he and Putin agreed on the need for a “political process” to halt the conflict and had pledged to work with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has crafted a largely-ignored six-point plan aimed at halting the bloodshed.
But there was little sign they had agreed on concrete means to end the conflict, following US frustration at Russia’s blocking of Security Council moves against Assad.
The United States, Britain and France are working on a new UN Council resolution in which they want to threaten sanctions against Assad. But Russia, Syria’s main international ally, and China have already blocked two resolutions.
Moscow news reports, meanwhile, said Russia is preparing to send two amphibious assault ships and marines to the Syrian port of Tartus where Russia has a naval base to ensure the safety of its nationals,
The amphibious warships, The Nikolai Filchenkov and The Tsezar Kunikov, are to be sent to Tartus with a “large” group of marines, Interfax news agency quoted an officer at Russian naval headquarters as saying.