UN approves extension of mission to Syria

Syrian troops celebrated a rout of rebels in
the Damascus neighborhood of Mida on
Friday. Nearly 450 people were reported
killed Thursday and Friday.
With violence reaching new heights in Syria, the UN
Security Council unanimously approved a 30-day
extension of the monitor mission there Friday,
throwing what amounted to a thin lifeline to Kofi
Annan, the special envoy in the Syrian conflict, to
save his paralyzed peace plan from total
The 15-0 vote came only a few hours before the
300-member mission’s authorization was to expire.
A failure to act would have forced the monitors into
a hasty withdrawal from Syria, just as deadly
mayhem, rebel advances, and refugee flows from
the 17-month-old uprising against the government
of President Bashar Assad appeared to be
Although the work of the monitors has been
suspended for more than a month because of the
violence and the disregard for Annan’s plan by both
Assad’s government and his armed opponents,
diplomats feared that scrapping the effort entirely
would have sent a message of failure at precisely
the wrong moment.
“We believe it is the right thing to do, to give a final
chance for the mission to fulfill its function,’’
Britain’s UN ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, told
reporters after offering the resolution that was
The council extended the mission ‘‘for a final period
of 30 days,’’ essentially allowing for an orderly
departure. But the resolution left open the
possibility of a further renewal if two conditions
were met: a halt to the Syrian military’s use of
heavy weapons, as promised in Annan’s plan, and a
reduction in violence to a level that would allow the
unarmed monitors to resume their work. The basic
purpose of the monitor mission is to oversee
implementation of Annan’s plan.
Grant and other ambassadors declined to speculate
on what appeared to be a rapidly changing picture
on the ground in Syria, where activist groups said
more than 300 people died in clashes Thursday and
at least 140 Friday, and the UN refugee agency
reported an enormous surge of people fleeing the
Refugee officials in Geneva reported a conspicuous
increase in cars departing Damascus, the capital,
which had been relatively insulated from the
insurgency against Assad until this week, when
rebels of the Free Syrian Army took the fight to
neighborhoods in earshot of the presidential palace.
Then, in the most potent strike on the government
since the uprising began, a bomb attack killed three
of Assad’s top security officials Wednesday at one
of the government’s most secure locations in the
capital. A fourth victim, Lieutenant General Hisham
Ikhtiar, the head of National Security, one of the
government’s intelligence agencies, died of his
wounds Friday, Syria’s state television announced.
The public funeral for the first three victims,
including Assef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law
and a long feared security chief, was held Friday in
a military ceremony on Qassioun Mountain,
overlooking Damascus, state television said. The
two top figures officiating were Farouq al-Sharaa, a
vice president largely kept out of view since he was
singled out by outside powers last year as a
possible transitional leader, and General Fahd
Jassem al-Freij, who was named minister of
defense Wednesday, immediately after his
predecessor died in the bombing.
Assad and his brother, Maher Assad, the
commander of the country’s most elite military
forces, did not attend.
The Security Council’s unanimity on extending the
monitor mission contrasted with the acrimonious
discord in the council chambers the day before,
when Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed
British resolution that would have threatened
Assad’s government with economic sanctions under
Chapter 7 of the UN Charter if he did not comply
with the peace plan.
Russia and China have consistently opposed
invoking Chapter 7, which can also authorize
military intervention to enforce the council’s will, as
an unwarranted intrusion into Syria’s domestic
affairs. Western diplomats expressed outrage at the
veto and accused Russia and China of protecting
Assad despite his government’s record of brutality.
The Russians and Chinese countered that acts of
brutality have been committed by both sides.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, further
accused Western nations of concealing what he
called their true motive: deposing Assad in order to
deprive Iran of its only remaining Middle East ally.
The council’s unanimity Friday barely masked
Western anger from the veto 24 hours earlier.
Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador, said the
council’s decision to extend the mission for 30 days
‘‘was not the resolution the United States had
hoped to adopt in the first instance.’’
Rather than emphasizing the monitoring mission’s
extension as a final opportunity for Annan’s plan,
Rice described it as a way to allow the monitors ‘‘to
withdraw safely.’’ Her description did not sit well
with Churkin.
But there was no sign that the antagonists in Syria
were interested in accepting Annan’s plan. Iraq was
reported to have thrown up blast walls to seal its
main border crossing with Syria, Abu Kamal, after
rebel forces took control of all four crossings into
Iraq and one into Turkey a day earlier
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