UN votes to extend Syria observer mission


Unverified footage appears to show protesters taking to the streets despite the risk to their lives

The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to keep its observer mission in Syria for a "final" 30 days.

However, members agreed the mission could be extended further if the use of heavy weapons ends and fighting eases.

The observers - sent to oversee a ceasefire that never took hold - have suspended their work in the face of escalating violence.

With fighting now engulfing areas of Damascus, thousands of Syrians are fleeing into neighbouring countries.

Government forces in the capital are reported to have launched all-out attacks on rebel strongholds.

They have retaken the Midan district and are believed to have launched an assault on the eastern Jubar area.

As President Bashar al-Assad redeploys troops to quell a growing uprising in the capital, rebels have struck at other targets around the country.

At the scene

In the middle of the day, in the scorching heat of a Lebanese summer, a flood of Syrians has slowed to a trickle crossing the border.

Lebanese border guards said 18,000 crossed in the past 48 hours.

Yesterday, as fighting escalated in Damascus, the queue of vehicles waiting to enter stretched into the distance. Today the traffic is still a mix of expensive limousines and large, poorer, families on foot, dragging suitcases.

In an extended family of seven adults and five children, an anxious mother spoke of their fear.

"The children were very scared of loud explosions and shooting. We were prisoners in our home. We didn't know who to trust - the Free Syrian Army or the government," she said.

And then the family cheered at the sight of a pickup arriving to take them to the house of a grandfather in Lebanon.

On Thursday rebel fighters took control of crossings on Syria's Iraq and Turkey borders.

And on Friday, fierce fighting broke out in Syria's second city of Aleppo, activists said.

The latest violence comes after an attack on Wednesday that killed four senior members of the regime, including national security chief Hisham Ikhtiar, who died from his injuries on Friday.

'Final extension'

The UN vote came after hours of intense negotiations among security council members.

Russia had threatened to veto the UK-drafted resolution, but Moscow's ambassador Vitaly Churkin finally backed a revised text.

The resolution will end the observer mission in 30 days. The mandate could then be renewed, but only if Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council are able to confirm that both sides are abiding by the terms of the UN-backed ceasefire plan.

Britain's UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said after the vote: "We have said clearly that it is a final extension unless there is a change in the dynamic on the ground, and in particular that there should be a cessation of use of heavy weapons and that there should be a sufficient reduction in the violence to enable UNSMIS [the observer mission] to carry out its mandate."

US ambassador Susan Rice said it was "unlikely" that the violence in Syria would ease enough to allow a continued UN presence.

She said that Washington's "strong preference" would be for a resolution involving sanctions.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Western powers on Friday not to take action against Syria outside of the Security Council.

His spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying: "In the opinion of the Russian president, any attempts to act outside the UN Security Council will be ineffective and only undermine the authority of this international organisation."

On Thursday, Russia - an ally of Damascus - and China had vetoed a resolution on Syria for the third time in nine months.

Syrians cross into Lebanon at the border crossing point in Masnaa Syrians have been crossing into Lebanon at the border crossing point in Masnaa

Under that Western-backed motion, Syria would have been threatened with non-military sanctions - under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter - if it failed to move troops and heavy weapons from populated areas.

As the situation on the ground in Syria worsened, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that thousands of people were crossing the border into Lebanon.

"The refugee situation has become much more dramatic with the spreading of the violence into Damascus," said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

"We have figures that there could be anywhere from 9,000 to 30,000 that have fled across the border into Lebanon just in the last 48 hours.

"There may be up to a million Syrians displaced within the country and inside Damascus we're seeing people shifting from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, sleeping in parks, in schools."

The UNHCR says there are already 26,900 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although activists say the real figure is much higher.

A UNHCR spokesman told AFP news agency that about 2,500 people had arrived in Jordan over the past four days, adding to the 35,000 registered Syrian refugees already there.

A spokesman described it as "a steady flow".

About 140,000 Syrians are believed to have fled to Jordan since the uprising against President Assad began in March last year. The Jordanian government is building several refugee camps for them.

Reports also suggested that more than 3,000 Syrians had crossed into Iraq in the past 24 hours.

Some Iraqis, who were returning from Syria, have told the BBC they had been forced to flee their homes near Damascus because of sectarian violence and intimidation. They said they had been targeted by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Come on BBC - put the links back!

    Why are you trying to hide this debate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    We welcome the decision of UN but seeing the current situation,it cannot do much to maintain the ORDER as desired and hence we encourage that the borders are kept open for the refugee to cross over safely to nearby Countries; temporarily setting a border within the border where outside help can be extended to all.This System should work better than trying to restore the order within the Zone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    This has to be considered one of the most useless UN observer missions ever. They just sit around in their hotel too afraid to go out. And when they do the only thing they observe are burnt buildings and dead bodies.

    Anyone with a phone can do it better, and in real time, not after the scene has been altered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    The castrated UN and its nincompoop Koffi Anan have virtually facilitated Assad in his murderous rampage against his own people with useless unworkable and pathetic attempts to buy time which is what the regime wants. Had this approach been applied during World War Two Hitler would still be occupying Europe today. Russia and China two virtual dictatorships of course support a brother dictator.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Suilerua (67),

    "When the Assad regime is finally overthrown the lust for revenge against the ruling minorities is likely to result in a bloodbath ..."

    As that has not yet happened during this Arab Spring uprising of the People against their Rulers, I rather doubt that it will happen this time.

    Perhaps, but unlikely.


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