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Syria: ahead of mandate’s end, UN observer chief renews call for end to violence

Lt. General Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria. Photo from video.
Lt. General Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria. Photo from video.

Syria: ahead of mandate’s end, UN observer chief renews call for end to violence

Ahead of the impending end of the mandate of UN observers in Syria, the force's acting head today reiterated his call on the parties to the Middle Eastern country's ongoing conflict to put down their weapons.

“[I] take this opportunity to call again upon the parties to stop this violence that is causing such suffering to the innocent people of Syria,” the UN Military Adviser, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, who is currently serving as the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), told journalists at a media briefing in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 17,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago.

Over the previous two weeks, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as the country's two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, with the latter reportedly the centre of intense combat between Government and opposition forces, involving both aerial bombardments and heavy weaponry.

Earlier this week, a panel probing abuses committed during the country's ongoing conflict and working under a mandate from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council – the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry – issued a report which found that

Syrian Government and opposition forces have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, some 2.5 million people in Syria face destitution as fighting grows ever more intense in populated areas. The humanitarian chief had spent three days in the strife-torn country and Lebanon, earlier this week.

“Those parties have obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure that civilians are protected,” Lieutenant General Gaye said in his remarks to reporters. “These obligations have not been respected.”

Initially set up in April for 90 days, UNSMIS' mandate was extended for another 30 days in late July, with the Security Council's adoption of resolution 2059. Escalating violence eventually led the Mission to suspend its regular patrols.

Resolution 2059 had also indicated that further renewals to UNSMIS' mandate would be possible only if it could be confirmed that the use of heavy weapons had ceased and a reduction in violence by all sides was sufficient to allow the Mission to implement its mandate. With the 30-day extension, the Mission's mandate is set to expire at midnight on Sunday.

With the required conditions not met in order for UNSMIS to continue it work, Security Council members decided on Thursday to establish a liaison office to support efforts for a political solution to the conflict.

“But the UN will not leave Syria; we will continue the search to move from violence to dialogue,” Lieutenant General Gaye said. “A UN presence is being established.”

The acting UNSMIS head also thanked the Mission's staff members for their efforts, as well as Syrian counterparts for their cooperation. “Syria has a proud and rich history; its future must not be undermined,” he added.

The Security Council's tasks for UNSMIS included monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of a six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, who will complete his term of service at the end of August.

That plan called for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

On Friday, a UN spokesperson told reporters that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his counterpart at the League of Arab States, Nabil El Araby, had appointed veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to the post of Joint Special Representative of the UN and League of Arab States for the crisis in Syria, taking over the peace-facilitation role played over the past several months by Mr. Annan.