Syrian violence escalating, says head of UN team


CHIEF OF the UN monitoring mission in Syria Gen Robert Mood yesterday declared that violence had escalated to an unprecedented level, obstructing his team’s ability to carry out its tasks and assist in launching dialogue between the warring parties.

Also yesterday a Damascus-based website with close links to the Syrian regime said Gen Manaf Tlass, who was a leading member of Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, had defected to Turkey.

Gen Tlass is a member of the most powerful Sunni family in Syria, and the son of a long-serving former defence minister, Mustafa Tlass, but he was reported to have fallen out of favour in recent months for refusing to take part in attacks on civilian areas regarded as opposition strongholds.

Meanwhile, Gen Mood, in his second statement in 24 hours, said the mission was formed to “monitor the cessation of violence”, not to “stop violence” or “observe an escalation in violence”.

Unless there is a “demonstrable recommitment to a sustained cessation of violence and a viable political process”, the mission’s ability to carry out its mandate “will be limited”, he said.

The general said he had made his findings clear during briefings to the security council on June 19th and those attending the Geneva conference on June 30th.

Gen Mood said that UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan convened the Geneva gathering to urge the international community to “take concrete action”, eliciting from participants an agreement that “conditions conducive to a political settlement must now be put in place”.

“For that to happen, the bloodshed must stop,” the general said, observing that this is possible once the government, the opposition, and the regional and international “stakeholders” decide to end the violence and turn to dialogue.

Asking who is responsible for stopping the violence, he replied, those “with their fingers on the triggers and those who supply [them] with weapons, explosives and money”.

While monitors are not touring hot areas, he is restructuring the mission and creating four regional sites – Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Deir-al Zor – from which teams will patrol when fighting subsides.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon will be submitting a report to the security council which will have to map a way forward after July 20th, when the mandate of the current mission ends.

Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had dismissed as “a joke” western suggestions that his government would offer asylum to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Mr Lavrov said: “We are not talking about a few dozen people . . . but a very large part of the Syrian population that ties its security to the current president.”

Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Damascus against escalating the tension with Turkey following the shooting down of the Turkish warplane that entered Syrian airspace. “Nato is . . . prepared to defend Turkey if it is necessary,” he said.

The bodies of the pilots of the downed aircraft were recovered from the seabed within Syrian territorial waters and returned to the Nato base at Malatya from where their mission began.

WikiLeaks announced it has begun publishing two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and commercial firms from August 2006-March 2012. By leaking these, the whistleblower intends to show how the regime operated ahead of and during the 15-month crackdown.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, “The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s external opponents.”

Initial files reveal that Italian defence firm Finmeccanica has supplied communications equipment to the government since the revolt began.– (additional reporting Guardian service)