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UN halts monitor patrols in Syria

Mission chief says troops to remain in barracks as fighting intensifies across war-torn country

THE UN has suspended its monitoring mission in Syria, citing escalating violence.

Major-General Robert Mood, chief of the observer mission, said none of the 300 monitors would go on patrols or leave their locations while fighting continued to rage.

The stand-down order comes after incidents in which monitors were prevented from travelling to attack scenes and in some cases shot at.

Explosions have also occurred near UN patrols.

Neither regime forces nor the guerrilla army they are battling have honoured a peace plan brokered two months ago by the UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan.

Instead fighting has intensified, with Homs, Hama, parts of Damascus and north-eastern Syria all experiencing heavy clashes.

Refugee movements to Turkey and Lebanon have increased and the UN says Syria is now in a state of civil war. "This suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis," said Maj-Gen Mood. "Operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities."

Last Thursday, monitors were prevented by regime supporters from travelling to the aftermath of heavy fighting in the town of al-Haffa near the Turkish border. In recent weeks they had also been delayed trying to reach the scene of two massacres in central Syria.

The Annan plan was seen as the last chance to prevent all-out civil war.

All other diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the violence remain deadlocked, with Russia and Iran refusing to countenance any talk of regime change.

What began as a movement of protest has become a two-way fight in many parts of Syria, although unarmed protests do still occur in many areas. After being outgunned since the fighting intensified last August, supply lines have been opened up to rebel units in northern Syria

Fighting continued yesterday, with the rural outskirts of Damascus the scene of intense battles. The capital and Syria's second city, Aleppo, have largely remained under regime control, though opposition forces are showing new signs of rigour and discipline elsewhere. The regime has made little use of its air force; attack helicopters have been deployed in the north. A fleet of refurbished helicopters is due back in Syria shortly after being refitted by Russia.

© Observer

Sunday Independent