Middle East

Syria crisis: Russia warns against UN withdrawal

Russia's foreign ministry has said that if the United Nations were to pull out of Syria, it would have "serious negative consequences" for the region.

The warning comes as the UN prepares formally to end its observer mission in Syria.

The mission's mandate expires on Sunday and the UN has said the continuing violence means it will not be renewed.

Fresh fighting was reported in Aleppo on Thursday, with dozens reported killed in an attack on a bakery.

Meanwhile, more details have emerged of an air strike on the nearby town of Azaz, close to the Turkish border, on Wednesday. The US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says 40 people are now known to have died there.

The strike injured more than 100 people, said HRW, and destroyed an entire block of housing.

Many of the wounded were taken to Turkey for treatment and Turkish media said at least 13 of them died in hospital in Kilis, a few miles north of the border.

"They attacked us with a warplane. Twenty-eight people from my family died," one wounded survivor in Kilis hospital said.

Syrian activists said the government carried out attacks in several areas on Thursday, including suburbs of Damascus as well as the provinces of Idlib, Deir al-Zour, Homs and Deraa.

At least 36 people were reported to have died when a bakery in the Qadi Askar area of eastern Aleppo was struck.

Unverified video footage emerged on activist websites showing several bodies lying in the street as local people rushed to take the wounded away for medical treatment.

UN presence

During talks with the US State Department, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov "stressed the importance of maintaining the UN presence in Syria", the ministry said in a statement.

Image caption The UN says millions are in need of humanitarian aid

"It was stressed that the exit of the UN from Syria would have serious, negative consequences not only for the country, but for the whole region," said the statement.

The UN's observer mission, which was part of outgoing UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan, expires on Thursday.

The mission is seen as having failed because it has not stopped the violence and the government has not withdrawn its heavy weaponry, so it is not expected to be renewed.

But the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wants some form of UN presence to remain in the country.

The Security Council is expected to accept his proposal for a small political liaison office - attached to a yet-to-be appointed new special envoy - to keep a dialogue going between all parties until peace talks can be held, says our correspondent.

Aid effort

Meanwhile, the UN's humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, has warned that 2.5 million people in Syria are in need of aid.

Speaking in Damascus, where she met officials including Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, Baroness Amos repeated her call to the Syrian government to ease restrictions on organisations seeking to help with the aid effort.

She said funding shortages were preventing the UN from effectively distributing supplies.

On a visit to a refugee camp housing 7,000 displaced Syrians in Jordan, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius described their situation as "extremely precarious" and promised that his country would do its best to help.

"We consider Assad to be butchering his own people. He must leave, and the sooner he goes the better," he said.

Syrian government envoy Bouthaina Shaaban, who was visiting China, praised Beijing and Moscow for taking a "very different stance" from the West which she accused of "supporting with arms and money people who are inciting the civil war in Syria".

Russia and China have used their veto at the Security Council to block UN resolutions condemning the Syrian government's use of violence.

Activists say some 23,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in March last year. Tens of thousands of people have also fled their homes.

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