The United Nations is increasingly worried about the unarmed observers it has sent into Syria to monitor the war between President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and opposition rebels.
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) is caught between hostile troops accused of firing at its patrols and increasingly bitter Syrians who cannot understand why it has not halted the bloodshed,officials said.
Susan Rice,US ambassador to the United Nations,likened the monitors to “300 sitting ducks in a shooting gallery,one IED from a disaster,” at a recent UN Security Council meeting.
An Iraq-style Improvised Explosive Device,or roadside bomb,exploded in front of a convoy of UN ceasefire monitors last month,without wounding anyone.
Yesterday,shots were fired at another UN patrol as it tried to get to Al-Kubeir,a village near Homs,where a fresh massacre reportedly left dozens dead. No monitors were wounded,and they planned to try to return today.
The Security Council has ordered a review of the mission to be ready before its 90 day mandate ends on July 20.
According to diplomats and UN officials,options being studied range from sending more observers with armed protection to a complete withdrawal if UNSMIS suffers casualties. All stressed that no decision has yet been taken.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan say government-inspired violence has been reduced in areas where monitors are present.
But neither wants to increase the force because of the threat to lives,diplomats said.
Ban highlighted the regular attacks and near-misses that the observers have endured at a Security Council meeting yesterday.
He said that in some cases the observers “appear to have been deliberately targeted at grave personal risk,” according to one official at the meeting.
The UN secretary general told of “repeated instances of firing close to mission patrols with the apparent intent of forcing their withdrawal,” the official said.
On May 30,six armed men in civilian clothes fired over a patrol to deter it from entering the town of Adareb near Aleppo,the official said.
In another incident,a heavy shell landed 150 metres in front of a patrol heading for a meeting with opposition contacts. Five minutes later,the patrol saw a surveillance drone overhead,the official added.
On June 3 in Kafr Zeta,machine gun fire disabled an unoccupied UN vehicle with armor piercing ammunition. Small arms fire hit a temporary UN observation post forcing monitors to withdraw,the official cited Ban as saying.