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UN Seeks to De-Escalate Syria Situation

United Nations (UN) observers traveling in UN vehicles leave the UN office in Damascus, April 26, 2012
United Nations (UN) observers traveling in UN vehicles leave the UN office in Damascus, April 26, 2012

A spokesman for the United Nations truce-monitoring team in Syria says it found a need to "de-escalate" the situation in a Damascus suburb, while France calls for a rapid expansion of the mission.

Wednesday, a group of observers visited Douma, where Syrian rights activists said security forces carried out shelling as part of attacks that killed at least 27 civilians across the country.

Observer mission spokesman Neeraj Singh said Thursday the monitor team is establishing contacts and preparing for a larger mission approved by the U.N. Security Council last week.

"In this process we have a role of de-escalating the situation.  We do that - and we did that yesterday in Douma - by maintaining our presence on the ground, patrolling the area for a good number of hours, through our liaison activities."

The Security Council has authorized a 300-member mission.  U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Tuesday 30 observers could be in place by the end of the week and 100 within a month.

But on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called on the United Nations to deploy the full contingent within 15 days, saying the U.N.-backed truce that took effect April 12 has been "seriously compromised."

Juppe said France has discussed with other world powers the prospect of imposing a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which allows for the use of force to "restore international peace and security."

Russia and China have twice vetoed Western- and Arab-backed Security Council resolutions calling for punitive action against Assad's government for violently suppressing the revolt against his rule.

The Syrian government says it is committed to a cease-fire and other elements of international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, but reserves the right to defend itself against "armed terrorists" whom it accuses of driving the unrest.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the violence Wednesday including government shelling of the central city of Hama that killed at least 12 people.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency said a "terrorist" bomb explosion in the city killed 16 people.

Elsewhere, the Observatory said Syrian rebels killed three government soldiers in a battle in the southern province of Daraa.

Casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on the uprising, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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