UN to open Syria liaison office in place of monitors
THE UN Security Council yesterday approved the opening in Damascus of a political liaison office, staffed by 20-30 political, humanitarian and military experts.
The council agreed to establish such an office after deciding that its monitoring mission, dispatched in April, would come to an end at midnight on Sunday.
The military monitors, who numbered 300 at full strength, were mandated to observe a ceasefire and promote dialogue with the objective of ending violence. “The conditions to continue . . . were not fulfilled,” stated Gérard Araud, France’s UN ambassador.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continued operations against rebel-infiltrated districts in the northern city of Aleppo as tit-for-tat sectarian kidnappings spilled across the border into Lebanon, risking civil conflict in that country.
Syrian rebels, who are running low on arms and ammunition, threatened to forge an alliance with al-Qaeda if the West did not provide weapons and air cover.
“If al-Qaeda enters Aleppo, the city will become their base within three months . . . they will brainwash the people,” stated Abu Ammar, a rebel commander based in the Bab al-Nasr area.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which have been supporting the Syrian rebels, ordered their nationals to leave Lebanon following a spate of abductions on Wednesday, by the Shia Mikdad clan, of one Turk and 20 Syrian supporters of the rebels. The clan seeks to secure the release of Hassan al-Mikdad, seized by Sunni rebels in Syria.
Al-Jazeera reported that 18 of the men were released shortly after clan spokesman Maher al-Mikdad announced: “At this moment we have halted all operations on Lebanese territory . . . because we have a sufficient number of Syrians linked to the Free Syrian Army.” He had earlier warned that the clan would continue to snatch hostages and would begin killing them if any harm came to their relative.
Mikdad supporters smashed Syrian-run shops in a southern dis- trict of the capital and blocked the road to Beirut’s international airport with burning tyres, forcing an Air France passenger aircraft to divert to Damascus for refuelling and then on to Larnaca in Cyprus.
In response, masked men from Majdal Anjar, a Sunni town near the border with Syria, blocked the Damascus-Beirut highway, stopped cars and checked passengers’ identities before allowing them to complete their journeys.
A man with dual Lebanese-Syrian nationality identified as Hissam Khashroun was kidnapped by armed gunmen in the nearby town of Chataura. He is known to be a supporter of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati replied to the Gulf states’ call to their citizens to return home by assuring visitors the country’s security forces would act against anyone trying to disrupt traffic on the airport highway.
In Syria, three members of a pro-government television team kid- napped by rebels last week in al-Tal township, north of Damascus, were freed by the army. A fourth member of the team was reported killed in a bombardment of the area.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for the freeing of Ahmad Sattour, a Syrian correspondent for an Iranian Arabic broadcaster who was seized near his home in Homs on Monday. Journalists working for state media have also been targeted. At least three have been killed and eight abducted in the past month.