Escalating Violence Limits U.N. Observer Mission In Syria, Official Says

By: CNN, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CNN, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CNN) -- The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria says the increasing violence across the country is impeding his group's work, and he urged all parties to give the U.N.-backed peace mission a chance.

"The escalating violence is now limiting our ability to observe, to verify, to report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects," Maj. Gen. Robert Mood told reporters in Damascus on Friday.

"Violence, over the past 10 days, has been intensifying, again willingly by both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," he said. The population is suffering, "and in some locations, civilians have been trapped by ongoing operations."

Mood briefed reporters as shells rained down on flashpoint towns and protesters took to the streets

Activists angry with Columbia University Mood said a peace plan put together by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan -- which outlined an end to the violence in Syria -- is not being implemented. The observers are tasked with seeing if the government and rebels are adhering to the plan and are monitoring a cease-fire, the plan's centerpiece.

"Initially, there was a lull in violence, brought about willingly by the parties, and UNSMIS (the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria) began to engage with the local population, establishing trust and building bridges between the local authorities and opposition groups," he said.

But President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition have accused each other of violating the six-point initiative. Mood said neither side has been willing to forge peace and there is a "push toward advancing military positions."

Mood stressed "there is no other plan on the table."

"It is important that the parties give this mission a chance, and the international community gives this mission a role that best serves the aspirations and welfare of the Syrian people."

Mood said the U.N. Security Council will review the mission and its mandate in the upcoming days.

"This is not a static mission," he said.

As part of Annan's plan, roughly 300 unarmed U.N. observers are in Syria.

This week, a U.N. official overseeing monitors in Syria described the violence as a "civil war," the first time anyone with the global body has used such language to describe the uprising.

An opposition group slammed the monitoring mission as ineffectual.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing the shelling deaths of eight people in Daraa, said Friday that despite the mission, deaths from the violence have risen in the last month. It said the monitors should go home if they can't help implement the plan and stop the killings.

"The monitors have played no positive role to stop the rising violence," it said.

Heavy shelling was reported in and around Homs, including hard-hit Baba Amr, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition group. Shelling was also reported in Andan in the province of Aleppo.

At least 26 people were killed in violence early Friday across Syria, including one person in Homs, the LCC said.

Based on what was mentioned, we at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights call on the international monitors to work to immediately implement the plan of Mr. Kofi Annan in order to stop the killings and firing in Syria or depart to their countries.

The Syrian government warned of possible suicide bomb attacks against mosques in Damascus after the arrest of a man with ties to the Al Nusra Front, a group the government says has ties to al Qaeda.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported the arrest of Mohammad Houssam al-Sadaki, who it said confessed to plans to blow himself up at a central Damascus mosque.

"The terrorist confessed that supposedly there will be other terrorists who will carry out suicide attacks in a number of mosques in central Damascus during the Friday prayer," SANA reported.

Friday is typically a day of protest among anti-government groups that are calling for the ouster of al-Assad. The theme of this week's protest, according to organizers, was "total dispatch for total mobilization" -- a call for Syrians to rise up.

In Idlib province, a protester in the town of Isqat held a sign that depicted the United Nations as the grim reaper, according to a picture posted on Facebook by the LCC.

In the latest report of abuses, Human Rights Watch said Syrian government forces have used sexual violence to torture detained men, women, and boys.

Witnesses and victims also told Human Rights Watch that soldiers and pro-government armed militias have sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 during home raids and military sweeps of residential areas.

The Syrian opposition has repeatedly called on the United Nations and world leaders to take the lead and intervene to end the escalating bloodshed, including recent massacres in Houla and Quebir and eight days of bombardment in the city of al Haffa

World leaders have been wrangling over what to do about the conflict in Syria, leaving the U.N. Security Council at a standstill over possible action.

On one side are the United States, the European Union and much of the Arab League, which are demanding that al-Assad step down and end the violence. On the other side are Russia, China and other trade allies of Syria, which say the conflict is an internal matter that must be decided by Syrians.

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against al-Assad began about 16 months ago. The opposition puts the toll at between 12,000 and 14,000.

CNN cannot independently verify government and opposition claims of casualties because access to Syria by international journalists has been severely curtailed.

Al-Assad's government moved to quash the protest movement, which quickly devolved into an armed rebellion.

The conflict has largely played out as a series of daily countering claims, with the opposition accusing government forces of indiscriminate shelling of residential neighborhoods or other such violence, while the government claims its forces are battling "armed gangs" bent on destabilizing the government.

Francis Deng and Edward Luck, who advise the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on preventing genocide, called on the international community to meet its "responsibility to protect populations at risk of further atrocities in Syria."

World powers should take into consideration "the full range of tools available under the United Nations Charter" and reconsider requests to refer the allegations of abuses to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, they said.

"With the increasing violence and deepening sectarian tensions, the risk of further mass atrocity crimes is high. The time for action is now," said a statement Thursday from


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