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Syria observer chief says violence derails mission

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The head of the U.N. observers in Syria said Friday a spike in bloodshed is derailing the mission to monitor and defuse more than a year of violence, raising questions about how effective the unarmed force can be in a conflict that every day looks more like a civil war.

The troubles facing the observer mission are the latest sign that an international peace plan for Syria is disintegrating. Western powers have pinned their hopes on the plan, brokered two months ago by special envoy Kofi Annan, in part because there are no other options on the table. There is little support for military intervention, and several rounds of sanctions have failed to stop the bloodshed.

"Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," Maj. Gen. Robert Mood told reporters in Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Mood also said there was a concern among the states providing observers that the risk is approaching an unacceptable level — suggesting the violence could prompt the nearly 300 observers to pull out of the country at some point. He did not provide further details.

Mood's comments were the latest sign that Annan's peace plan is falling apart. The regime and the opposition have ignored a cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect April 12.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called on the observers to "either work on stopping the killings or leave." The group said the observers' role has become to "witness the killing in Syria" rather than implement Annan's six-point plan.

On Friday, the Syrian regime kept up a ferocious offensive on rebel areas around the country in one of the most serious escalations in violence since Annan brokered the nominal truce.

Nationwide, at least 28 people were reported killed when security forces opened fire on protests, according to activists. That toll could not be independently verified.

Russia sends missile systems

MOSCOW — The chief of Russia's state-controlled arms exporter said Friday that his company was shipping advanced defensive missile systems to Syria that could be used to shoot down planes or sink ships if the United States or other Western nations try to intervene to halt the country's spiral of violence.

"I would like to say these mechanisms are really a good means of defense, a reliable defense against attacks from the air or sea," Anatoly Isaykin, the general director of the company, Rosoboronexport, said in an interview Friday. "This is not a threat, but whoever is planning an attack should think about this."

As the weapons systems are not considered cutting edge, Isaykin's disclosures carried greater symbolic import than military significance. They contributed to a cold war chill that has been settling over relations between Washington and Moscow ahead of a meeting between President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in the Mexican resort of Los Cabos next week.

His remarks come just days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised diplomatic pressure on Russia, Syria's patron, by criticizing the Kremlin for sending attack helicopters to Damascus.

Throughout the crisis, Russia has insisted that its arms sales to the isolated government of Bashar Assad have been defensive in nature and were not being used in the campaign to suppress the opposition.

Syria observer chief says violence derails mission 06/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 12:23am]
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