News / Middle East

Fighting Rages As UN Extends Syria Mission

In this photo provided by the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution that threatens Syria with new sanctions in New York, July 19, 2012.
In this photo provided by the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution that threatens Syria with new sanctions in New York, July 19, 2012.
Larry FreundAl Pessin
NEW YORK — As fighting intensified in Syria, and with international diplomacy at a near standstill, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a 30-day extension to a monitoring mission on Friday.

However, the U.S. and Russia were at odds over whether the vote ends the observers' work.

UN Observers in Douma, SyriaUN Observers in Douma, Syria
UN Observers in Douma, Syria
UN Observers in Douma, Syria
The U.S. said the vote allows the 300 unarmed military observers to begin to shut down their mission. The observers have been deployed under U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan to end the 16-month conflict, but have been largely ineffective as fighting raged and Mr. Annan's overtures failed to stem the violence.

"The decision we took was to extend the UNSMIS's mission for a final period of 30 days to allow it to withdraw safely and orderly - in an orderly fashion," U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said. "And we hope very much that the withdrawal will be conducted with the principal priority placed on the security of U.N. personnel."

But Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin denied that the resolution calls for a mission pullout.

The resolution said the Security Council is willing to renew the observer mission after the 30-day mandate expires in August, but only if the use of heavy weapons ends and the level of violence is reduced by all sides.

“It is a resolution about the continuation of the activity of the mission," he said. "If a decision were to be taken not to extend the mission, then of course it can withdraw very quickly and I hope safely.

"But this is not about withdrawal and I think we should not disorient the mission and the international community by describing it as a withdrawal resolution,” he said.

The council action comes after Russia and China, on Thursday, vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have imposed consequences on Syria if it failed to halt the violence.

New Avenues

After the vote, the U.S. and Britain vowed to address the situation in Syria through other means.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Syrian opposition needs more help.

“We will all be doing more outside the Security Council and intensifying our work to support the Syrian opposition, to give humanitarian aid outside the work of the Security Council,” he told the BBC.

On Friday, Russia rejected Western criticism of its veto.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that some Western countries are trying to lay the blame for the escalating Syrian violence on Russia's refusal to support a resolution threatening sanctions against the authorities," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

China's state media on Friday defended Beijing's veto.

"Unfortunately, some Western countries hastily pushed for a vote on the immature draft, which, if adopted, will only lead to more violence in Syria," Chinese state media said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at a news conference during a visit to Slovenia on Friday, said the failure of the Security Council to approve a resolution on Syria was deeply disappointing. But he said that he and envoy Annan will press ahead to try and end the violence and abuses in Syria.

Fighting rages

The U.N. activity comes as more fighting was reported throughout Syria.

Syrian activists say more than 300 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, in what is believed to be the deadliest day in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that nearly 100 of the people killed in the violence were government troops. Many civilians also were killed.

Syrian state media reported that government troops have recovered full control of a volatile neighborhood in Damascus, the Midan District.

The capital has been the scene of fierce clashes this week between Syrian troops and rebel forces. Wednesday, a rebel bomb blast killed three senior military figures with close ties to President Assad. State television Friday said the country's national security chief, Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar, has also died of wounds suffered in the blast.
The rebels seized control of major border posts with Iraq and Turkey Thursday, leading Iraqi officials to close off the border with Syria. Iraq also said the rebels killed at least 21 Syrian soldiers at the crossing.

Syrians flee

Syrian refugees walk with their belongings on the Lebanese-Syrian border, in al-Masnaa, July 20, 2012Syrian refugees walk with their belongings on the Lebanese-Syrian border, in al-Masnaa, July 20, 2012
Syrian refugees walk with their belongings on the Lebanese-Syrian border, in al-Masnaa, July 20, 2012
Syrian refugees walk with their belongings on the Lebanese-Syrian border, in al-Masnaa, July 20, 2012
But Syria's main border crossing with Lebanon was quiet Friday, the day after an estimated 20,000 Syrians crossed to flee the increasing fighting.

Lebanese officials on the border had prepared for another busy day.

But it was more of a trickle than a flood, and none of the Syrians coming across into Lebanon described themselves as refugees. On a Friday at the start of Ramadan, they might have been coming to visit family, as they claimed.

Many of the refugees who came over on Thursday were believed to be supporters of President al-Assad from Damascus and its suburbs.

“No one better will come after Assad," said one such driver, who crossed Friday for a two-day visit. "It's not possible. There is no one better than him. Eighty-five percent of the people are with him and 15 percent are getting paid to be against him.”

Volunteers from the International Committee of the Red Cross were ready to help, but were not needed.

A local Muslim relief organization also swung into action, finding space for refugees in schools and homes. But much of the space was not used. Most of Thursday's refugees were well off and could afford to rent apartments or hotel rooms.

More refugees

Still, Ali Abdul Khalek of Muslims Without Borders is concerned that more, and poorer, refugees will come if the trouble in Syria continues.

“Lebanon can't absorb a large number of refugees," he said. "The population of Damascus is equal to the population of all of Lebanon. Lebanon can't do this by itself without international help.”

Along the row of shops near the border, the Syria crisis is having a different impact. Business at Ahmed Al-Ajami's family electronics store is down 70 percent because fewer Syrian tourists are coming by.

“Business was very good," he said. "The store was bustling. Now, there is nothing since the beginning of the war in Syria. The last month-and-a-half it is nothing at all.”

VOA'S Larry Freund reported from New York and Al Pessin reported from the Syria-Lebanon border. Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters

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Comment Sorting
by: fzareey from: USA
July 21, 2012 3:20 PM
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system. A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvelous swiftness and perfect regularity."

(Baha'u'llah, The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, p. x)

by: Michael from: USA
July 21, 2012 8:29 AM
The country of Britain's Christendom, then the Syrian opposition fighters, and full humanitarian measures, with the British alone, not the freedom fighters, as toward a genteel British humantarian tradition.

by: Wyatt Larew from: Austin TX
July 20, 2012 2:45 PM
Every member of the UN needs to be taken out back and hung by the neck they are so worthless! They are giving a notion that they are even concerned with the Syrian crisis by extending the mission for a month! Extending them to be barricaded in a hotel room for another month not actually doing anything. I bet you feel better about yourselves huh your pretending to act in a situation that needs action. I have a question what if America just sat back and watched Hitler kill all of you! You would not even be here right now! The entire principal of this Council is to make sure that this does not happen and you are all a bunch of P_-_-_y's! Russia and China just say Bend over and you ask them if you are allowed to use Vaseline this time! I hope the Syrian people attack all of your countries for failing to do your duties to Humanity when they win. After Assad is gone I am sure you will be right there to help organize their new government and I hope the Syrian people tell all of you to get the hell out. Another Pissed off Islamist state you people are stupid and going to cause massive casualties because of bureaucratically Political bull crap!
In Response

by: cleopatra from: Ohio
July 20, 2012 5:31 PM
would that be in accord with Sharia...? hey, just asking...
In Response

by: Sunita from: USA
July 20, 2012 5:21 PM
calm down... Arabs are people governed by hate... I am glad to see the hate directed at them... it has always been directed at us... now let sit down and enjoy the sights... you should rejoice too... if you are an American that is...

by: Kafantaris from: Ohio
July 20, 2012 1:16 PM
Russia and China had a chance to be part of the solution in Syria. Over and over they have refused -- with no convincing reasons.
This left the Syrian regime to continue its brutal crackdown that demoralized the people and accelerated the defections. It even brought outside Arabs to Syria for help.
No peaceful solution now seems workable and the fast changing events on the ground are likely to determine the fate of both Assad and Syria.
In the end Russia and China may again be on the outside looking in.
"If you can't beat them join them, " would sum things up well.
Unfortunately, the paranoia of these totalitarian regimes gets in the way to understanding that.

by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
July 20, 2012 1:16 PM
Some politicos think that publically chastising Moscow by our diplomats actually hurts the West's cause in Syria and for the region. The King of Jordan seems to suggest ramping down the rhetoric as not to push the region as a whole down the path of no return. They have a point.

by: Anonymous
July 20, 2012 11:27 AM
Meenwhile in Syria, civillians are being killed with Russian weaponry, and Russia decides to allow it to happen.
In Response

by: Mike from: Greece
July 20, 2012 1:28 PM
If Russian children were being tortured to death, the Vito would be deferent, But scene it is not theres or China's people being tortured to death, they don't care, as long as they get there agenda's in full. I just pray those two will change there minds and save the people instead of there pockets.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 20, 2012 1:10 PM
meanwhile in America, the government is arming drug lords so they can kill American law enforcement.

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