United Nations envoy Kofi Annan was meant to end the civil war in Syria, but violence continues regardless. UN observers are fighting a losing battle - but there is little alternative to the Annan plan.
Syrian government troops and opposition fighters are continuing the torture, murder and abuse of human rights almost relentlessly. New reports of shootings, shellings and attacks are emerging from the country every day.
One of the most recent attacks occurred in Houla where more than 90 people were killed, including 32 children under the age of 10, UN observers said Saturday. The shelling represents one of the deadliest regime attacks yet in Syria's 14-month-old uprising, activists said.
A ceasefire agreed under the plan set out by United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which has theoretically been in force since April, is now little more than a piece of paper. More and more opposition activists are taking up arms. An investigative commission carried out by the UN Human Rights Committee has spoken of an "increasing militarization" of the conflict.
300 observers for the whole of Syria
The head of the UN observer mission Maj. Gen. Robert Mood was still making optimistic statements in mid-May, when he spoke of an "immediate calming of the situation" after the first members of his team arrived.
There are now 260 UN observers on the ground, with the mission set to increase 300 soon. Germany also intends to contribute up to 10 troops.
The unarmed UN force is supposed to ensure the implementation of Annan's six-point peace plan. The plan includes the start of political dialog, access for humanitarian organizations, release of political prisoners, freedom of movement for journalists, and the right to gather and demonstrate peacefully. According to Corinna Hauswedell, conflict analysis director at the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), President Bashar Assad's regime has fulfilled none of these conditions.
Assad is apparently buying time. Agreeing to the Annan plan has reduced the international pressure on his government, but to actually end the conflict, Assad would either have to step down, or at least hand over some power to the opposition. "But that's certainly not on the regime's agenda," said Hauswedell. Instead, Assad's troops are continuing to attack opposition forces.
More UN pressure?
Rolf Mützenich, foreign policy spokesman for Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party, was also skeptical about Assad's readiness to compromise. "I would like to see the UN Security Council try to put more pressure on the regime with a resolution," he said. But the council is divided. China and Russia, both of whom have veto power over any Council resolution, have repeatedly backed Syria and prevented any stronger action against the country's government.
In the light of this stalemate, some Syrian opposition groups have called for military intervention without agreement from the Security Council, but Mützenich rejects this idea. "Unilateral operations without the legitimacy of international law will certainly not solve this situation," he said. The German government has taken the same view, though the question is largely academic, since there is currently little appetite for such military action in the international community.
No weapons for the opposition
Hauswedell also rejected the idea of supplying the opposition with weapons, calling such a move "a kamikaze policy." The opposition receives financial support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The money is reportedly being used to pay rebel fighters, though it cannot be ruled out that it is also being used to buy weapons.
Hauswedell said she also thinks it is too early to give up on the Annan plan. "There is no other viable path at the moment," she said.
Mützenich agreed. "At the moment, it is the only plan where the international community is at least trying to go forward together," he said. "Unfortunately we have to live with what is possible on the international stage."
The situation does at least appear to have improved in the areas where the UN observers are travelling, and Mützenich said it is worth waiting to see what happens after the UN mission reaches full strength.
For Mood, though, one thing is clear: "If the opposing parties don't want to give dialog a real chance, then the observers won't be able to stop the violence, no matter how many there are."
Author: Nils Naumann / bk
Editor: Sean Sinico