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UN Security Council ends Syrian observer mission

The world community, including China, has piled pressure on Syria's government to end 17 months of bloodshed as the UN Security Council ordered the end of the Syrian observer mission.

The United Nations Security Council ordered the end of its Syrian observer mission on Thursday, two weeks after the resignation of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and the failure of his six-point peace plan.

The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), led by Norwegian General Robert Mood, had been tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Annan plan and documenting abuses by President Bashar Assad's regime and anti-government rebels.

But Mood suspended the operations of UNSMIS in June, as escalating violence prevented the military observers from carrying out their mandate. The observer mission's mandate was extended in July and expires on August 19.

"The conditions to continue UNSMIS were not fulfilled," France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said after a council meeting on the Syria conflict.

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UN ends its observer mission in Syria

The mission is scheduled to come to an end at midnight on Sunday, according to UN peacekeeping department chief Edmond Mulet.

Sources at the UN in New York added that veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi had agreed to replace Annan as the international mediator on Syria, but with an altered mandate.

Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov had told senior US officials that the UN should maintain its observer presence in Syria, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

Beijing pressures Damascus

In Beijing a visiting representative of President Bashar Assad's regime was told by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to "quickly implement a ceasefire" and to "start political dialogue" with Syria's opposition.

China, like Syrian ally Russia, has vetoed three UN Security Council draft resolutions drawn up by Western and Arabic nations since April.

The Beijing visit by Syrian envoy Bouthaina Shaaban follows Wednesday's decision by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Mecca to suspend member Syria despite objections from its ally Iran.

OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said: "This world can no longer accept a regime that massacres its people using planes, tanks and heavy artillery."

Syrian state media slammed the OIC on Thursday, accusing it of serving "Western colonialism" and supporting "terrorists." Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the OIC's move contradicted its charter.

Syrians check the damage of destroyed houses after an air strike destroyed at least ten houses in the town of Azaz (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Several buildings were destroyed during the air strike on Azaz

Visiting a UN-run refugee camp housing 6,000 people in northern Jordan, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused Assad of "butchering his own people." Assad must leave, Fabius said, "and the sooner he goes the better."

Azaz raid toll mounts

Violence across Syria on Thursday claimed at least 80 lives, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including 18 civilians killed by shelling in Aleppo, Syria's northern commercial hub where rebels have battled Assad forces for several weeks.

A Wednesday airstrike by the Syrian government on Azaz, a rebel bastion near Aleppo, had killed 31 people, the Observatory said, including women and children. Another 200 were wounded.

Human Rights Watch put the toll at more than 40 dead. It said the air raid had demolished two housing blocks. A headquarters of the Free Syria Army (FSA) nearby was left undamaged.

Dozens of surviving Azaz residents were headed for Turkey, the Observatory said, while UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos warned that Syria's overall situation was worsening.

Syrians in need of aid numbered 2.5 million, Amos said, about one tenth of the population.

Cabinet reshuffle

In Damascus, Assad appointed three new cabinet members on Thursday in a reshuffle that followed last week's defection of his former premier Riyad Hijab.

A photo taken in 2000 showing President Assad, right, and his brother Maher, center, during the funeral of late president Hafez al-Assad

Assad clan with Maher al-Assad (center) in a photo from 2000

Reuters quoted Western diplomatic and Arab Gulf sources as saying that Assad's brother Maher, who commands Syria's Republican Guard, had lost a leg during the bomb attack on the Syrian security cabinet in Damascus last month.

Maher has not been seen in public since the July 18 bombing, which killed four senior members of Assad's inner circle.

Reuters quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying: "We heard that he (Maher) lost one of his legs during the explosion, but we don't know any more."

In Lebanon, a Shiite clan that abducted more than 20 Syrian opposition activists and a Turk said on Thursday it had enough hostages. The Meqdad clan said it wanted to put pressure on FSA rebels to release a clansman abducted in Damascus. The hostage-taking prompted Gulf states to urge its nationals to leave Lebanon.

ipj/slk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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