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UN Monitor Chief in Syria Says Violence 'Unprecedented'

Norwegian Major General Robert Mood (L), chief of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, addresses a news conference in Damascus next to spokeswoman Sawsan Ghoshe, July 5, 2012.
CAIRO — The head of the U.N. observer team in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, is calling levels of violence in the country "unprecedented" and is urging both the government and the opposition to implement a cease-fire.

Syrian government forces continue to pound rebel-held districts of Homs Thursday with field artillery, mortar rounds and tank shells, sending clouds of smoke and dust into the air and setting fire to buildings. Live webcam images showed wide-scale destruction in many areas.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 27 people killed nationwide Thursday, a day after 99 people died in violence that has plagued the country for nearly 16 months.

Witnesses also report that the government siege is preventing food and medicine from entering several hard-hit districts. Many civilians remain trapped in the city and Red Cross teams are still being prevented from evacuating the sick and wounded.

The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, General Robert Mood, said in Damascus Thursday that the observer team suspended its activities last month due to the '"unprecedented" violence. But he vowed the mission would press ahead.

"We cannot and we will not turn our eyes and ears away from your plight and we'll continue our work to find new paths to political dialogue and peaceful resolution to the crisis," said General Mood.

Mood said he is relocating personnel in order to be able to conduct "targeted tasks." This, he said, would require sending larger groups of monitors to particular areas for longer periods of time.

In Cairo, Ahmed Ben Helli, deputy head of the Arab League, insisted the group had done its utmost to “promote dialogue” among Syrian opposition leaders at this week's opposition conference, while trying “not to get involved” in internal disputes.

Ben Helli added that the Arab League believes there is “no military solution” to the conflict in Syria and that dialogue is imperative to putting an end to the violence.

He says the violence, killings, persecution, sieges and famine in Syria are not sound methods, and the crisis can't be solved militarily. He says that violence must stop and the crisis should be solved via joint U.N.-Arab League efforts.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied press reports that his country was planning to offer political asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He also urged his Western counterparts to “convince all parties to sit down at the negotiating table.”

Syrian opposition leaders have repeatedly refused to negotiate with President Assad, telling this week's Arab League conference in Cairo that he is “part of the past, and not the future.” A meeting of the Friends of Syria group is due to get under way Friday in Paris.