The UN Is Observing a War Zone, Not a Ceasefire in Syria

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The UN observer mission in Syria began its work in the country Monday, but according to accounts on the ground, the envoy is looking at a war zone, not a ceasefire.

Today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Syrian government to provide the observers with full access to "freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence," reports Zein Karam at the Associated Press. Though Ban called the current ceasefire "very fragile," video footage and first-hand accounts reveal that depiction to be a rather severe euphemism. 

The most striking example of this is in the rebel stronghold of Homs, where Syrian forces are continuing a shelling and shooting campaign against opposition forces. "Tarek Badrakhan, an activist from the battered and almost deserted Homs district of al-Khalidiya, said the Syrian government had resumed its intense bombardment of the neighborhood early on Monday for the third consecutive day," reports Al Jazeera. "The shelling hasn't stopped for one minute since this morning. There are buildings on fire right now,'' said Badrakhan. The network features vivid images of mortal shells ripping through buildings in the city. 

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A new CNN report cites a Monday death toll of 10 people, according to the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights. "The dead included a 6-year-old child killed by sniper fire in the Damascus countryside and two soldiers executed by the regime when trying to defect in Idlib, the group said." That same group claimed 26 people died in attacks on Saturday. 

So isn't all this violence a foolish move by Syria with UN observers currently in the country? According to Waleed al-Fares, an activist in Homs speaking with The Daily Telegraph, the campaign may be a bid to keep civilians quiet during the weeks or months when the observer mission is in the country.

"They are attacking this area because there are too many activists there," Fares said. "They are teaching people a lesson, not to go and talk when the observers arrive." From a number of accounts, it's not clear how much longer the opposition can last. "Most of the people died in buildings that collapsed from the shelling," Fares added. "We cannot pull them from the rubble, because there are snipers."

How long the UN will tolerate continued violence while its observers are in Syria is yet to be seen. According to CNN, the game plan is to have some 250 observers in the country but as of right now there are only 30. "The second, larger deployment is contingent on how the cease-fire holds and whether discussions between Syria and [Kofi] Annan can make headway to stop the carnage," reports CNN. With the violence on the ground right now, that headway feels far off.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.