U.N. observers become targets in Syria

Syrian anti-regime protestors gather around UN observers in the village of Azzara in Homs province on May 4, 2012. JOSEPH EID/AFP/GettyImages

(CBS/AP) UNITED NATIONS - The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said Tuesday that U.N. forces have come under fire multiple times recently but are committed to staying in the strife-torn country.

Major General Robert Mood told the Security Council behind closed doors that the escalating violence and targeted attacks against his observer team by gunmen as well as angry crowds continues to take place, forcing him to retrench and suspend the activities of the unarmed observers, reports CBS News' Pamela Falk.

Mood said after the private briefing at the Security Council that questions about canceling the mission were premature and noted, "We are not going anywhere."

The U.N. said Saturday its 300 observers based in Syria were suspending all missions because of concerns for their safety after fighting intensified over the previous 10 days.

"Shelling, small arms fire and other incidents are coming much closer, and we have been targets several times over the last few weeks," Mood said. It was not only dangerous to his observers, but made it difficult to carry out their mission.

A U.N. diplomat who was at the briefing, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the briefing was closed, said Mood told the council that observers have suffered direct fire at least 10 times, have been in several indirect fire incidents, and nine UN vehicles were damaged or struck by small arms fire.

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Mood spoke after briefing the U.N. Security Council during a closed meeting on the situation in Syria, where shelling and clashes between rebel fighters and government troops in Homs have continued.

"The suffering of the Syrian people, the suffering of men, women and children, some of them trapped by fighting, is getting worse," Mood told reporters.

Mood did not attribute the suspension of the mission to any single incident, but said that among the problems was the inability of the observers to get through an angry crowd that mobbed their motorcade in one city.

Reviving the mission would require a reduction in violence and a commitment from both the Syrian government and the opposition to "freedom of movement" for the U.N. observers, Mood said.

While the Syrian government had given him such assurances in the last few days, he said "I have not seen the same clear statement from the opposition yet."

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who also briefed the council, added: "For the time being we have decided, however, not to touch, not to modify, but to rather retain the integrity of the mission and its mandate. We must be aware that a number of diplomatic initiatives are under way, bilateral and multilateral."

The diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said Mood told the council that the observers are trying to facilitate a local cease-fire in Homs.

The diplomat added that Mood told the council there has been little effort to ensure civilian protection by the Syrian government, and there has been no increase in the pace and scale of release of people who are arbitrarily detained.

Mood told the council that Syria twice announced the release of 500 detained persons, but the observers saw two groups of 230 and 100-plus released and few key leaders, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. Mood said that on a smaller scale the opposition is depriving liberty to individuals too, the diplomat said.

Opposition groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

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