International

Syria, U.N., Discuss Cease-Fire Mission As Fighting Continues

United Nations and Syrian officials are trying to work out details for a U.N. observer mission tasked with monitoring a cease-fire deal reached last week that is aimed at ending months of bloodshed.

But NPR's Grant Clark reports that ongoing violence is raising concerns that the observer mission can go forward as planned. He says the U.N. team is in Syria amid intense military shelling for a fourth day of the opposition stronghold of Homs.

Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihan Makdissi says protocols for governing the mission are being finalized, but it's not yet clear when, and to where, the observers will be dispatched.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, speaking in Brussels, urged Syria to ensure the observers have access and freedom of movement.

"It is the Syrian government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country," he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. "They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence."

Ban called the cease-fire "very fragile," but said it was essential that it hold so that an "inclusive political dialogue can continue." He said opposition forces "should also fully cooperate."

The New York Times says the team is drawn from military missions in the region and are an advance guard of a contingent "expected to grow to 250" as negotiations proceed with the Syrian government.

The observers "will start with setting up operating headquarters and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces so that both sides fully understand" their role, Mr. Fawzi said in a statement quoted by The Times.

Opinion on the streets of Damascus was mixed. Government supporters, remembering how United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq wanted access to even Saddam Hussein's private quarters, fretted that the force would become intrusive.

"I have no trust in the U.N. and its organizations, which did nothing good for Arabs," said Ali, 40, a government employee and member of President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite sect, which has remained staunchly behind the president. He, like many interviewed would give only first names, out of fear of retribution. "Russia is standing with Syria, but its recent position was not strong, as it was a few months ago," Ali added.

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