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A day in the life of a UN observer in Syria

Gen. Robert Mood's job is to convince both sides in Syria's civil war that they're not interested in destroying the other.

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Yesterday, rebel activists alleged Syrian government forces shelled a neighborhood of Deir Ez-Zour, killing 10, after anti-Assad protests broke out. In recent weeks, there have been reports of  major massacres by pro-government militias and evidence that heavy mortars have been used to shell densely-packed cities. The State Department alleges that fresh massacres are being planned by the government and the UN finally admitted today what had long been apparent – that the country is in the midst of a civil war.

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Sunni teen: 'I can't go anywhere'

But despite the challenges, Mood appears undaunted.

“If the choice is between hopeful and pessimistic I would land on hopeful,” says Mood, in charge of a 271-member observer mission, after his meetings. “What we’ve seen in Deir Ez-Zour is that people want to get back to work, they want food on the table, they want their children in school, they’re concerned about their crops. On the other hand the governor is eager to find a solution for his [province] and he is 100 percent committed to the six-point plan.”

Afterwards, Mood told Syrian TV that the meeting had been constructive. “The governor has promised to release all the [rebel] prisoners if the other side puts down its weapons,” he said.

But the likelihood of the opposition surrendering at this point is slim and none, and the cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in April has been shot full of holes right from the start. And after months of bloodshed it is hard to imagine how the Syrian opposition could agree to any deal that doesn’t include the departure of President Assad and his regime. It is just as unimaginable that Assad would agree to share power with what his regime has consistently referred to as “terrorists.”

In this region, that has left many Syrians caught in the middle, and the danger doesn't just come from the regime. "Anyone working for the government is a target," says an 18-year-old Sunni in Deir Ez-Zour who requested anonymity. "My dad works for the government, and I can't go anywhere in Deir Ez-Zour for fear of being killed or kidnapped."

Not long ago, he and friends survived a kidnapping attempt. "We never knew who they were, but they seemed to have coastal accents," he says, suggesting that they were Alawites. "I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. The opposition is after me because of my dad, but 13 friends from my tribe have been killed by the Army. The situation is quite hopeless."

Of course, Mood is not in Syria to impose peace. Kofi Annan’s six-point plan merely asks everybody to be nice while the Security Council members figure a way out of the current stalemate, with Russia so far vetoing a tougher stance against the Assad government.

“We don’t have the luxury of years; we have at best months,” says Mood. “The spiral of violence can only lead to an outcome that nobody wants, a nightmare scenario that would have huge consequences for Syria and the region.”

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