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Monitors to stay in Syria, U.N. says

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:39 PM EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
  • Russia, China "recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war," Obama says
  • "We're not going anywhere," the monitoring mission chief says
  • An opposition group says 52 died in violence Tuesday
  • Hague says a Syria-bound ship seems to be heading back to Russia

(CNN) -- The U.N. monitoring mission in Syria will remain in place for now, despite having halted its activities amid rising violence, its leaders said Tuesday.

Security Council members met in private with the mission's leader, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, who halted operations Saturday. He reported then that the escalating violence between government troops and opposition groups was making it too risky for the monitors to do their jobs.

"I conveyed first and last that the suffering of the Syrian people -- the suffering of men, women and children in Syria, some of them trapped by fighting -- is getting worse," Mood said. However, he added, "I remain committed to the mission, in the position we are currently in. We're not going anywhere."

And Herve Ladsous, the United Nations' peacekeeping chief, told reporters that, "for the time being, we have decided not to touch, not to modify" the observer mission.

But a U.N. diplomat, speaking about the session on condition of anonymity, described Mood's briefing as "gloomy."

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He told council members that monitors had been targeted directly 10 times and indirectly 100 times, the diplomat said. Monitors' vehicles had been attacked nine times in the prior eight days, the diplomat quoted Mood as saying.

Mood told reporters after the session that gunfire and shelling were "coming much closer" to the monitors, "and we have been targeted several times." He said he was reviewing conditions daily and hoped to resume operations soon.

About 300 monitors are in Syria ostensibly to ensure that all sides in the conflict comply with a six-point peace plan brokered by joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan. But the April cease-fire took place only in name, and fighting has increased sharply since late May.

Routine government shelling and massacres of civilians have been reported in recent weeks. Opposition groups say more than 13,000 people have been killed since President Bashar al-Assad launched a crackdown on anti-government protests in March 2011. The U.N. estimates the death toll at more than 10,000.

At least 52 people were killed Tuesday in Syria, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition umbrella group.

The Syrian government has consistently blamed the violence on "armed terrorist groups."

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said Tuesday that terrorists sabotaged oil pipelines in Homs and Deir Ezzor.

"Syria cares not only about a couple hundreds of civilians trapped in some rebel strongholds in Homs, but the Syrian government is totally committed to protecting the rights of 23 million Syrian civilians," Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said. "I'm glad that the presence of General Mood helped today the members of the Security Council to look at the picture in its entirety."

Jaafari said Syrian government officials want the observer mission to resume and the Annan plan to go forward, and he criticized Security Council members United States, Britain and France, which have called for al-Assad to go.

"The issue for them is to change the Syrian state, and they've said it many times," he said. "They don't care about the safety of the Syrian population."

Earlier Tuesday, a senior Obama administration official said Mood's report would influence how the United States and other members of the international community work with Annan on his proposal for a contact group on Syria.

"The U.S. supports the idea of a contact group, which would bring together all nations that want to play a role in resolving the violence in Syria," said the official, who added that the United States would not welcome Iran as a member of the contact group.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria at the G-20 meeting in Mexico. But the two made little headway.

The United States and its European and Arab allies have viewed Russia and China as obstacles to tough action against al-Assad. Russia has a lucrative arms trade with Syria and has blocked two Security Council resolutions that would have sanctioned the Syrian government.

"I wouldn't suggest that at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China," Obama said at the end of the summit Tuesday. "But I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war. I do not think they condone the massacres that we've witnessed. And I think they believe that everybody would be better served if Syria had a mechanism for ceasing the violence and creating a legitimate government."

Syria exposes cool spots in U.S.-Russia ties

Speaking shortly before Obama, Putin said he maintains his "fundamental position" that no one has the right to decide for others who should be in power and who should step aside. He acknowledged that some Syrians, as represented by the "armed opposition," want al-Assad to go, but "this is not all the people," he said.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed the importance of a "peaceful political transition and a "cessation of violence," but added a caveat:

"At no stage have we been advocating a military intervention, but we do recognize the situation is so grave and deteriorating so quickly and such crimes are being committed, we cannot take any options off the table at the moment," Hague said.

During a question-and-answer session at the House of Commons, Hague said he accepts that the Annan plan has not been working and said world powers stand ready for robust action in the Security Council if the plan cannot be revived.

"It's wrong to give up completely on that plan because any peaceful settlement in Syria, the road to it is either through the Annan plan or something similar to the Annan plan," he said. "So it's important to persist in those efforts. We are doing that particularly in our talks with Russia."

Syria-bound Russian cargo ship turning back, British diplomat says

Hague also said that a ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back, apparently toward Russia.

U.S. officials have said that the cargo ship, MV Alaed, operated by the Russian company Femco, was carrying attack helicopters and munitions for the al-Assad regime from the port of Kaliningrad.

CNN's Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Richard Roth, Salma Abdelaziz, Holly Yan, Joe Sterling and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.

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