Observers in Syria having an impact, but only 11 on the ground so far (+video)
Another 100 are slated to come in a month. 'Are they coming on horses?' asks an exasperated activist.
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Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog.
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Reports on the ground indicate that Syrian government troops have been resuming assaults on towns and cities once United Nations observers leave the area, giving weight to accusations that the observer mission is being used as a distraction from the brutal crackdown that continues in Syria.
Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy to Syria, acknowledged the reports when speaking to Security Council members yesterday, "I am particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama [Monday] after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people," he said, according to CNN. "If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible."
“We have credible reports that when they leave, the exchanges start again, that these people who approach the observers may be approached by the Syrian security forces or the Syrian Army or even worse, perhaps killed, and this is totally unacceptable,” said Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan’s spokesman, according to The New York Times.
Mr. Annan also expressed skepticism about the assertion of the Syrian foreign minister, who wrote in a letter that the government had withdrawn its troops from cities and towns, as required in the peace plan which it accepted, Reuters reports.
"The situation in Syria continues to be unacceptable. The Syria authorities must implement their commitments in full, and a cessation of violation in all its forms must be respected by all parties," he said.
The American ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, speculated that the heavy weapons that have supposedly been removed may have just been covered up so that they do not appear on satellite images. Her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, said he "considered the possibility" that Damascus was not following through on its promises and suggested he would raise the issue in Moscow, according to Reuters.
Despite accusations that the monitors have not been able to bring about the cessation in violence that was hoped, those in attendance at the UN yesterday advocated for an increase in their numbers. According to Reuters, there are only 11 monitors on the ground right now of the 300 approved. In another month, 100 more are slated to be deployed.
Violence has certainly continued since the initial deployment. The Damascus suburb of Douma was shelled today, according to The New York Times, and government troops raided two Hama neighborhoods yesterday after observers left. Syrians are "souring" on the idea that the monitors can do much for them.
“The observers were received in a very different way today,” said Manhal, an activist reached via Skype, who used only one name out of fear of retribution. “Anger and sorrow surrounds Hama, and they are the reason behind the killing,” he said. “People know if they meet them they will either be killed or arrested. I have lost faith in these visits.”
In northern Idlib Province, where the monitors have yet to visit, protesters in the town of Binnish used sarcasm to convey their message. In the midst of an antigovernment protest, a small group of students, dressed like observers in eggshell-blue berets and vests, wandered through the crowd. They were wearing sunglasses and tapping walking sticks, as if they were blind, and had toilet paper stuffed in their ears. “There is nothing new on the ground,” said one of the students in the video, shown on Al Jazeera.
"Our reaction to UN monitors depends on whether they are active or not," said Mousab al-Hamadi, an opposition resident from Hama. Reuters reports that, according to activists, 31 people were killed by Army shelling there on April 23, the day after the monitors visited.
"Yesterday, they came to (Hama). After they left, the people began to flee because they know that after the UN monitors leave the security forces will come and arrest people who have talked to them," Mr. al-Hamadi said.
However, according to a separate Reuters report, when observers are actually in the cities, they are having an impact. One activist acknowledged that since a group of monitors arrived in Homs on April 21, government shelling had stopped. "We have two monitors in the city and look at the impact it has had. Imagine if the number was raised," he said, expressing frustration with the slow pace of the monitors' deployment. "It takes them a month to arrive? Are they coming on horses?"
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said preparation for the possible failure of Annan's peace plan is under way because while the US and its allies support the plan, the US does not expect the Syrian government to comply. Additional US sanctions on the Assad regime are in the works, Mrs. Clinton said, according to the Associated Press.
The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday that Assad's actions have pushed the Obama administration to consider weightier measures against the Syrian regime, partially out of concern that worsening violence would have "serious ramifications for regional security."
“A direct US military intervention does not seem to be there right now,” Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the Monitor. “But ironically, Assad’s actions have spurred the US into thinking along those terms.”
Reuters reports that France said it could not "forever" support Annan's peace plan without seeing some results on the ground. "The regime must not get it wrong this time," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "It cannot continue to mislead the international community for much longer. When the time comes, we will have to take the necessary measures required if the situation on the ground continues."
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