A U.N. spokesman says a team of international observers has been evacuated from a tense town in northern Syria a day after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb.
Syria-based U.N. spokesman Hassan Seklawi says U.N. members picked up the team on Wednesday. They were apparently stranded in the area overnight with members of the opposition.
A roadside bomb struck the team’s vehicles on Tuesday during a mission in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, but none of the observers was wounded. The attack, which came minutes after witnesses said regime forces gunned down mourners at a funeral procession nearby, dealt a fresh blow to international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
Activists said the violence continued on Wednesday with regime forces opening fire from the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said the heavy machine-gun fire has so far prevented people from holding funerals for some of the 20 mourners who were killed at the funeral a day earlier. The U.N. said rebel forces had given the observers shelter in the town, which has witnessed anti-government protests since an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March last year.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the U.N. team, told reporters on Wednesday that he had spoken with the observers in Khan Sheikhoun by telephone and that they “told us that they are happy and safe where they are.”
Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan’s spokesman, said in a statement that the mission will recover the six staff members later Wednesday. “The U.N. staff members are co-located with opposition elements ... and are reportedly being treated well.”
Mr. Fawzi said the observers were caught up in the explosion as they met with the rebel Free Syrian Army. He said three vehicles were damaged.
More than 200 U.N. observers have been deployed throughout Syria to monitor a ceasefire agreement that has been repeatedly violated by both sides since it took effect on April 12, 2012.
Tuesday’s attack was at least the second time the U.N. observers have been caught up in Syria’s violence. Last week, a roadside bomb struck a Syrian military truck in the south of the country just seconds after Maj. Gen. Mood rode by in a convoy.