United Nations observers monitoring a cease-fire in Syria have suspended operations until further notice. Major General Robert Mood said the decision came due to escalating violence in the country.
The United Nations observer mission in Syria has suspended operations indefinitely due to increasing violence in the country over the past 10 days.
"In this high risk situation, UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria) is suspending its activities. UN observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice. Engagement with the parties will be restricted," the head of the mission, Norwegian Major General Robert Mood said in a statement released on Saturday.
"This suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis. Operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities," Mood added.
The head of the mission had warned on Friday that the intensifying violence in Syria was making it increasingly difficult for the observers to carry out their duties.
In Saturday's statement, he spoke of what he described as a "lack of willingness by the [government forces and rebels] to seek a peaceful transition" as called for under a six-point peace plan drawn up by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. He said innocent civilians were being killed on a daily basis and that the increasing bloodshed was “also posing significant risks to our observers.”
Mood stressed that the decision to suspend operations had not been taken lightly.
"Let me be very clear, UNSMIS is committed to the people of Syria. We stand ready to work with all parties to assist in bringing an end to the violence and promote political dialogue," Mood said. "A return to normal operations remains our objective."
The UN has around 300 monitors on the ground in Syria.
Past 24 hours marked by more violence
The decision followed another night and morning of violence in which Syrian troops are reported to have shelled several opposition strongholds, including suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and the central city of Homs. At least 26 people were killed over the past few hours, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
These, like all such reports from Syria, are virtually impossible to independently verify due to severe restrictions imposed on journalists working in the country.
The suspension of operations by USNMIS is the strongest indication yet that Annan's peace plan, including the the cease-fire that took effect on April 12, is falling apart.
The unrest in Syria began with demonstrations calling for reforms in March 2011, but it gradually escalated into something resembling a civil conflict after President Bashar al-Assad responded by launching a violent crackdown on dissent.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in the unrest, according to UN estimates.
pfd/tm (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)