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United Nations observer mission in Syria ends

posted Aug 19, 2012, 6:40 PM by Steve Zyck   [ updated Aug 20, 2012, 1:08 PM by Syrian Transition ]
19 August 2012 (BBC) The United Nations observer mission in Syria has formally ended, in line with Thursday's Security Council decision.

The team was deployed to monitor a ceasefire between rebels and the government agreed as part of former UN envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan, but the truce never took hold.

The UN decided to end the mission in response to growing levels of violence.

Mr Annan's successor, Lakhdar Brahimi, said on Sunday his task was no longer to prevent a civil war, but to end one.

"Civil war is the cruellest kind of conflict, when a neighbour kills his neighbour and sometimes his brother. It is the worst of conflicts," the newly appointed Mr Brahimi told France 24 television.

"There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria, but I believe that there has already been a civil war there for some time now. What's necessary is to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy."

Mr Annan quit at the beginning of August, saying the increasing militarisation of the conflict as well as a lack of unity in the UN made it impossible for him to carry out his task.

Russia and China have vetoed resolutions on the crisis three times, citing their opposition to any action which might be seen as regime change imposed from outside.

The appointment of Mr Brahimi, 78, an Algerian who has held a long list of high-profile diplomatic posts, was widely welcomed by the international community on Sunday.

Officials in Damascus have also offered their support.

Analysts say he has a formidable reputation at the UN but is also seen as independent of the major powers.

However, opposition groups have expressed scepticism about his ability to accomplish his mission.

On Sunday, a dispute flared between Mr Brahimi and the Turkey-based opposition Syrian National Council after he said it was too soon for him to comment on whether President Bashar al-Assad should step down.

The group said Mr Brahimi's comments were "unacceptable" and called for him to retract them and apologise.

Mr Brahimi later told Al-Jazeera TV that the SNC had misinterpreted his comments, and in turn demanded that the group apologise to him.

Political contacts

Announcing the end of its observer mission, the UN said a small civilian office will be set up instead to maintain political contacts.

"The conditions to continue [the mission] were not filled," France's UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, said after a Security Council meeting on Thursday.

As a result, the mission ended at midnight local time (21:00 GMT) on Sunday.

Before the decision, Russia had warned that pulling out of Syria would have "serious negative consequences" for the region.

On Saturday, the departing mission's head, Gen Babacar Gaye of Senegal, accused both government forces and rebels of failing to protect civilians.

Activists estimate about 20,000 people have died since anti-government protests erupted against the Assad regime in March last year. Tens of thousands of people have also fled the country.

On Sunday, President Assad made his first appearance in public since a bomb attack in Damascus last month killed several senior officials.

State TV showed Mr Assad performing prayers in the capital's al-Hamad mosque at the start of the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan.

His other appearances since the bombing had showed him carrying out official duties in government buildings.

Across the country, many people marked the Eid al-Fitr holiday with prayers and anti-government demonstrations.

Opposition groups also reported fierce bombardments of rebel-held areas.

Parts of Aleppo and Rastan were shelled, and clashes reported in Herak, Deraa province, the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Protests were held at cemeteries and mosques around Syria including Damascus, Hama and Idlib, opposition activists said.