NEW YORK — The head of United Nations peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, says that the main battle in Aleppo, Syria, is about to start. Ladsous spoke to reporters Thursday after discussing the Syrian situation with the U.N. Security Council.
Ladsous told the council the spiral of violence in Syria is increasing. “The focus two weeks ago was on Damascus. The focus is now on Aleppo, where there has been a considerable buildup of military means and where we have reason to believe that the main battle is about to start,” he said.
Ladsous said the Syrian opposition has heavy weapons, such as tanks and armored personnel carriers. But he added that U.N. monitors have not seen the opposition using these weapons against government forces.
The U.N. official told reporters that the U.N. observer mission in Syria continues to fulfill its mandate. The mission was established by the Security Council in April to monitor a cease-fire in the Syrian fighting. But as the violence escalated, the mission suspended its operations in mid-June. In July, half of the 300 U.N. military observers were withdrawn from Syria.
Ladsous said the remaining monitors continue to do their best to observe and report. The mandate for the U.N. mission ends on August 19.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, was critical of suggestions that the mission should end because of the violence in Syria.
“The useful contacts and experience which the mission has accumulated are there, and, of course, the objective information is very important. Some colleagues routinely ignore that objective information,” Churkin said.
French ambassador Gerard Araud, who is president of the Security Council this month, denied that he opposes the extension of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, or UNSMIS, past August 19. He cited a recent Security Council resolution permitting a renewal of the mission, if the government stops shelling civilian areas and if the level of violence decreases.
“And on this basis, I think we’ll decide whether we keep UNSMIS. If we can’t keep the UNSMIS in Syria, I think we are ready, of course, to consider any proposal by the Secretary-General,” Araud said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly is preparing proposals to maintain a U.N. presence in Syria.
The Security Council’s discussion of the observer mission came as the U.N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, resigned from his position as of August 31. He pointed to increasing militarization on the ground in Syria and the lack of unity in the Security Council for the failure of his mission. The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to vote on a Syrian resolution, but it would not require action by U.N. members.