UN 'ready' to support Syria mission


The United Nations is ready to support a proposed Arab League peace monitoring mission to Syria, where an eight-month crackdown on protests had led to thousands of deaths, a UN spokesman said today.

The pan-Arab body said in a statement yesterday it was urging the United Nations to take "necessary measures according to the UN charter to support the Arab League's effort to settle the complicated situation in Syria."

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed today what he called the league's "proposal to send an observer mission to protect civilians in Syria" and strongly urged Damascus to give its "consent and full cooperation."

"As invited by the Arab League ... the secretary-general is ready to provide the support needed," Mr Nesirky told reporters.

The Geneva-based office of the UN high commissioner for human rights was in contact with the league secretariat in Cairo on the matter, he added.

UN officials said the world body could provide human rights staff to assist the mission, if it goes.

The Arab League yesterday gave Syria 24 hours to sign a deal to accept the Arab monitors, or risk sweeping economic sanctions.

The deadline expired today without any response from Damascus, but the league said it was extending it until the end of the day before deciding what to do.

The league had originally planned to send 500 observers, including military personnel and delegates from human rights and other civil society groups. But the Arabs have rejected foreign military intervention in Syria.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem said the proposed mission had "pervasive jurisdiction that reaches the level of ... violating Syrian sovereignty," but that Damascus had not rejected it.

The league has rebuffed Syrian proposals for amending plans for the mission.

Mr Nesirky said Mr Ban "remains extremely concerned at the escalating crisis and mounting death toll in Syria," where the United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed, and believed Arab League efforts should be "encouraged and supported."

Meanwhile, Syria's military said today that 10 of its personnel, including six pilots, were killed in "terrorist" attack, which it said proved there was foreign involvement in the eight-month revolt against president Bashar al-Assad's rule.

"An armed terrorist group undertook an evil assassination plot that martyred six pilots, a technical officer and three other personnel on an air force base between Homs and Palmyra," the military spokesman said on state television.

"This confirms the involvement of foreign elements and their support of these terrorist operations in an effort to weaken the fighting capabilities of our forces."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group, said at least 47 people were killed in Syria yesterday, including 16 soldiers and 17 army deserters, mostly around the rebellious city of Homs and near the town of Rastan to the north.

The violence has prompted former ally Turkey to bluntly tell Dr Assad to step down and led France to propose "humanitarian corridors" in Syria to help transport medicines or other supplies to civilians in need.

French foreign minister Alain Juppe said he would discuss the idea with the Arab League but a source at the 22-member body said the proposal was not brought up at the Cairo meeting.

But Russia, China and their partners in the BRICS group of emerging economies warned against foreign intervention without UN backing and urged Mr Assad to start talks with the opposition.

"In the case that Syria does not sign the protocol ... or that it later violates the commitments that it entails, and does not stop the killing or does not release the detainees ... (Arab League officials) will meet tomorrow to consider sanctions on Syria," the Arab ministers said in a statement.

They said possible sanctions, which were not intended to affect ordinary Syrians, included suspending flights to Syria, stopping dealings with the central bank, freezing Syrian government bank accounts and halting financial dealings.

They could also decide to stop commercial trade with the Syrian government "with the exception of strategic commodities so as not to impact the Syrian people," the statement said.

Syria's economy is already reeling from the eight months of unrest, aggravated by US and European sanctions on oil exports and several state businesses.