UN mission chief appeals to both sides in Syria
UN observer force accuses both sides in the Syrian conflict of hampering its peace mission.
DAMASCUS - The UN observer force on Friday accused both sides in the Syrian conflict of hampering its peace mission and admitted its limitations in the face of escalating violence.
France, meanwhile, said that world powers could hold a summit on the Syrian crisis as the deadly anti-regime revolt entered its 16th month.
"Violence, over the past 10 days, has been intensifying, again willingly by both the parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," observer force chief Major General Robert Mood told a news conference in Damascus.
A UN convoy trying to reach Al-Haffe in northwest Syria, a town in northwest Syria under siege by regime troops, came under fire on Tuesday and was forced to turn back by a stone-throwing crowd of pro-regime residents of a nearby village.
The observer team was finally able to visit the town two days later, finding it all but deserted with a strong stench of dead bodies and most state buildings burned to the ground.
Mood said it was the Syrian people who were suffering the consequences of the failure to implement UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan. "There is no other plan on the table, yet it is not being implemented," the veteran Norwegian peacekeeper said. "Instead there is a push towards advancing military positions."
Mood warned that "this is not a static mission," adding that the mission's mandate would come under review by the UN Security Council at the end of July. "It is important that the parties give this mission a chance," he stressed.
Activists on the ground called for another day of protests on Friday, a day after at least another 84 people were killed in clashes and bombings across the country, according to a human rights watchdog said. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said major powers could hold a conference on the crisis which has cost thousands of lives on June 30 in the Swiss city of Geneva.
"There is a possibility of holding a conference in Geneva on June 30," Fabius told France Inter radio. Participants would include countries on the UN Security Council but the meeting would be held "without the constraints of the Security Council," the foreign minister added.
He also said that talks were under way with Russia on Syria's future if President Bashar al-Assad is ousted.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov swiftly denied such talks had taken place with France or the United States, which have both been pushing for Assad to step down.
"There were no such discussions and there could not have been such discussions. This completely contradicts our position," Lavrov told reporters. "We are not involved in regime change." Russia, along with China, has vetoed two Security Council resolutions against Assad and has vowed to oppose any military intervention. Monitors say more than 14,400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since a peaceful uprising erupted on March 15, 2011, prompting a bloody crackdown by Assad's forces that eventually prompted an armed reaction.
In other violence on Thursday, 14 people were also wounded when a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle near an important Shiite Muslim shrine in the capital, the state news agency SANA said. Syrian authorities said they had uncovered an Al-Qaeda plot to bomb Damascus mosques around the main weekly prayers.
A suspect detained on Thursday confessed that he had been planning a suicide bombing during Friday prayers at Al-Rifai Mosque in the heart of the capital, SANA reported. The suspect told interrogators that the group's members "have prepared young men ... to carry out suicide bombings in several areas in Damascus during prayers on Friday, June 15," SANA said.
As on nearly every Friday since the uprising began, activists called for nationwide demonstrations after weekly prayers, with this week's slogan being "Always prepared for a strong mobilisation." In a fresh report of bloodshed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine bodies, some of them mutilated, had been found in a town near Damascus.
"The bodies of nine people were found in Hamouria in Damascus province, some with their throats slit," the watchdog's head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. "It is unclear who carried out the attack." In Istanbul, Syrian opposition leaders were meeting on Friday in a bid to settle their differences and forge a united front to confront the escalating conflict in their homeland.
"We will work towards a unified vision," Burhan Ghalioun, the former head of the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, told AFP shortly before the two-day gathering kicked off. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, accused Syrian government forces of having used sexual violence to torture men, women, girls and boys detained
since the unrest broke out in March 2011.
The New York-based group said it had interviewed 10 former detainees, including two women, who described being sexually abused or witnessing such abuse in detention.