UNSMIS avoids implicating only the regime in atrocities

The escalating violence in Syria over the past 10 days has limited the ability of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) to observe, verify and report on the situation, its Chief Military Observer Major General Robert Mood said on Friday.

With the Mission being impeded in nearly each attempt to investigate an atrocity, General Mood said the U.N. Security Council will soon review the Mission and its mandate. Calling on all parties to lay down arms, he felt it was important that all sides in the conflict gave it a chance.

Blaming both sides for the intensified violence that has increased the risk factor for UNSMIS observers, Gen. Mood said in a statement made available here that there appeared to be a lack of willingness to seek a peaceful transition. Instead there was a push towards advancing military positions.

The Mission officially began on April 29 and initially there was a lull in violence, brought about “willingly” by the parties. The UNSMIS began to engage with the local population, authorities and opposition groups.

While the media based in nearby Lebanon and Qatar has been quick to point fingers at Syrian troops, the UNSMIS has so far not been as categorical.

For instance, it investigated reports of a massacre at al-Haffeh and found that “most Government institutions, including the post office, were set on fire from inside. Archives were burnt, stores were looted and set on fire, residential homes appeared rummaged and the doors were open.

“The Baath Party Headquarters in the town was shelled and appeared to be the site of heavy fighting. Remnant of heavy weapons and a range of calibre arms were found in the town. Cars, both civilian and security were also set on fire and damaged.

“A strong stench of dead bodies was in the air and there appeared to be pockets in the town were fighting is still ongoing.''

The team managed to enter the town after a week of persistence. Its report on one such futile attempt too did not name any side: “U.N. observers trying to reach the town of al-Haffeh were confronted with angry crowds that surrounded their vehicles, stopping them from proceeding any further. The crowd, who appeared to be residents of the area, then hurled stones and metal rods at the U.N. vehicles. The U.N. observers turned back. As they were leaving the area, three vehicles heading towards Idlib were fired upon. The source of fire is still unclear. ‘Describing the mission as “the factual voice on the ground, to ensure that the pain and the suffering of the Syrian people is recognised and addressed,” Gen. Moody said it was for an initial 90-day period, to monitor a cessation and “not to stop armed violence in all its forms by all parties”.

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