UN suspends Syria observer mission
UN observers suspended their mission to Syria, blaming intensifying violence as troops reportedly rained shells down on rebel strongholds, trapping more than 1,000 families in one city alone.
The unarmed observers have been targeted almost daily since deploying in mid-April to monitor a UN-backed but widely ignored ceasefire, and they were likened to "sitting ducks in a shooting gallery" by Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations.
Explaining the decision, mission head Major General Robert Mood spoke of an escalation in fighting and of the risk to his 300-strong team, as well as the "lack of willingness" for peace by the warring parties.
"There has been an intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past 10 days," General Mood said in a statement.
"This escalation is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects -- basically impeding our ability to carry out our mandate.
"The lack of willingness by the parties to seek a peaceful transition, and the push towards advancing military positions is increasing the losses on both sides: innocent civilians, men women and children are being killed every day.
"It is also posing significant risks to our observers.
"In this high risk situation, UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria) is suspending its activities," General Mood said.
The observers "will not conduct patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice," he said, adding that "engagement with the parties will be restricted."
Mood said the suspension would be reviewed daily, and that "operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities."
As the decision was announced, a watchdog reported 31 people killed across Syria as government forces shelled rebel strongholds including Douma near the capital and the flashpoint central city of Homs.
Regime forces targeted several districts of Homs city -- including Bab Tadmur, Jourat al-Shiah, Khalidiyeh and Safsafa -- killing at least five people, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
More than 14,400 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in mid-March 2011, according to the Britain-based watchdog.
The Observatory issued an "urgent call" to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "and all those with a sense of humanity to intervene immediately, in order to put a stop to the continuous shelling."
The watchdog also called for the "evacuation and protection of dozens of injured."
"More than 100 people are injured, many of them badly, and the lack of medical equipment means some of them will die," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding there was also a lack of medical staff.
Home to several Free Syrian Army bastions, Homs has been under intermittent attack by regime forces ever since the Baba Amr district was relentlessly pounded for a month earlier this year, according to the Observatory, and retaken by the regime.
An escalation of violence over the past week has engulfed several areas of the country, including Homs, and France's foreign ministry said Friday it was deeply concerned at reports of "an imminent, large-scale operation" by regime forces in the city.