UN council approves up to 300 Syria monitors

Observer mission subject to assessment; Independent opposition figure: Post-Assad Syria would seek regional peace.

UN monitors arrive in Damascus 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al- Hariri )
UN monitors arrive in Damascus 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al- Hariri )
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Russian- European drafted resolution Saturday that authorizes an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria for three months to monitor a fragile week-old cease-fire.
The vote came hours after UN cease-fire monitors visited the Syrian city of Homs on Saturday following months of bombardment.
On Friday, a Syrian opposition figure said that should the regime of President Bashar Assad fall, the Syrian people would work toward achieving a comprehensive peace in the region.
Speaking in Paris, Nofal al- Dawalibi told Israel Radio’s Eran Singer that Syrians are not interested in war with Israel, but in peace and stability.
According to Dawalibi, this week’s “Friends of Syria” conference in the French capital has no practical goals for bringing peace to the region.
He said thousands of monitors would be needed to halt over a year of bloodshed, rather than the 300 stipulated in the UN plan.
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Dawalibi is the son of Maarouf al-Dawalibi, Syria’s last prime minister before the rise of Assad’s Ba’ath party in 1961. Today, he is an independent opposition figure not affiliated with the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group.
On the ground in Homs – epicenter of the 13-monthold revolt against Assad – activists said that shelling and gunfire stopped for the first time in weeks before Syrian authorities let the monitors into the city.
The resolution said that the deployment of the UN observer mission will be “subject to assessment by the Secretary-General [Ban Kimoon] of relevant developments on the ground, including the cessation of violence.”
The council’s resolution also noted that the cessation of violence by the government and opposition is “clearly incomplete” and warned that the 15-nation body could consider “further steps” in the event of noncompliance with its terms.
Like the council’s resolution from last week that authorized deployment of an advance team of up to 30 monitors, Saturday’s resolution calls on both the Syria government and opposition to halt fighting that has killed thousands over the past year.
After the vote, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice made no effort to hide Washington’s reluctance to support the deployment of the mission, to be called UNSMIS, in the face of continued violence and a “murderous rampage” by the Syrian government.
“The United Nations Security Council has called upon the government to take concrete actions,” she said. “The Syrian government has ignored this council. In the United States, our patience is exhausted.” Rice said the United States would not support renewal of the mandate after 90 days if the Syrian government did not implement UN Arab-League mediator Kofi Annan’s six-point peace proposal and would push for sanctions if that happened.
“We will not wait 90 days to pursue measures against the Syrian government if it continues to violate its commitments or obstruct the monitors’ work,” Rice said.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Rice’s apparent pessimism about the monitoring mission was “unhelpful.”
“Making negative predictions sometimes looks like a prophecy which some people want to be borne out,” he said. “We would like to think positively about the current situation.” The council’s move to condition deployment of UNSMIS on Ban’s assessment of compliance with a truce reflected the fact that the US and European delegations are concerned about the failure of the Syrian government to halt the violence, return troops to barracks and withdraw heavy weapons.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said “we’re taking a risk” with the deployment of UNSMIS, adding that the council would have to consider sanctions if the Syrian government continues the violence.
A handful of monitors has been in the country for a week as an advance party while diplomats hammered out the mandate for a force of hundreds. During that time, a cease-fire has so far failed to end violence in the worst-hit parts of the country.
Activists said the shelling let up only to make it look as if the government was abiding by the truce, mediated by Annan, and they expected shelling to resume as soon as the monitors left.
Amateur video footage posted on the internet showed the monitors, clad in turquoise bullet-proof vests, being escorted by hordes of opposition residents through rubble-filled streets.
“The people want the overthrow of the president,” chanted the residents, many carrying the Syrian revolutionary flag.
“A team of observers have been sent to Homs and met the governor,” UN spokesman Khaled al-Masri said. “They are now visiting districts of the city.”
In another development, a “massive explosion” was heard near a military airport in Damascus on Saturday, a resident said, adding that he was not sure what had caused the blast. No further details were immediately available.
Assad’s opponents fear that a few hundred observers with a weak mandate would act as little more than a fig leaf for the government, thwarting more robust intervention to halt the bloody crackdown on cities that have risen up against Assad.
A similar-sized Arab League observer mission collapsed in failure in January after just a month. But Annan’s staff have argued that a small observer force can still help improve the situation by changing the political conditions on the ground.
The Syrian National Council has welcomed the observers’ mission and said that more monitors must be deployed to serve as witnesses.