Briefing by Head of UN Mission in Syria
Tomorrow afternoon (19 June) Council members will be briefed in consultations by the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Major-General Robert Mood. The decision to have the briefing was taken on Friday (15 June) as reports of an intense escalation of violence in Syria emerged. The briefing has taken on further significance following Mood’s announcement on Saturday (16 June) that UNSMIS was suspending its activities. Mood said that the UN observers would not conduct patrols and engagement with the parties would be limited until the situation allowed the mission to conduct its mandated activities.
Germany suggested on Thursday (14 June) that Mood brief Council members this week as he was expected to be in New York for the annual meeting of DPKO force commanders. Many Council members were keen to take advantage of Mood’s presence to get a direct read-out on the deteriorating security situation. In addition there was interest in hearing about mission-specific issues. These included the mission’s hindered access, reports that the mission and its personnel had been targeted, the lack of independent air assets, the lack of a finalised status of mission agreement, reports of delays by Syrian customs in releasing the mission’s communications equipment and obtaining visas for mission personnel.
Council members will also likely be interested in hearing Mood’s assessment of the impact of what appears to be a possible shift in military positions. Reports indicate the use of attack helicopters by the Syrian government and opposition fighters in possession of anti-tank capabilities which in some Council members’ minds indicate worrisome signs that the conflict is increasingly militarised. (There is also increasing concern about the safety of civilians. In Homs, civilians have not been successfully evacuated in spite of many attempts over the past week by UNSMIS. Yesterday Mood said that the government and opposition fighters “must reconsider their position and allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones without any preconditions and ensure their safety.”)
Council members last discussed UNSMIS on 7 June during a briefing by UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Among the key messages conveyed to Council members were that the violence was worse than before the cessation of violence deadline of 12 April, the Government of Syria was primarily responsible for not implementing the six-point plan, UNSMIS had been deliberately targeted and there needed to be consequences for non-compliance with the six-point plan.
Mood’s decision to suspend UNSMIS activities and his briefing on Monday may bring forward the Council’s preliminary discussions on the future of UNSMIS. (Following the 7 June consultations, Council members asked the Secretary-General to provide a series of options ahead of the UNSMIS mandate expiry on 21 July and the set of options and recommendations are expected to be included in the next UNSMIS report expected in early July.)
There has been a growing sense among some Council members that UNSMIS’ initial calming effect has dissipated and risks to the mission are increasing while its benefits are drastically decreasing. At the same time, many Council members recognise the importance of having a UN presence monitoring the Syrian situation in some capacity and—while its renewal is not a fait accompli—for now UNSMIS remains one of the primary instruments that could aid in the implementation of the six-point plan.
Council members will also have on their minds the impact of the suspension of UNSMIS activities on the anticipated discussions on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Mexico on 18-19 June. P5 leaders are expected to meet on the margins of the G20 to discuss the Syrian crisis and political energy has been directed recently towards getting Russia and the US to move towards an agreed path for putting credible pressure on the Syrian government and opposition elements to implement Annan’s six-point plan. (Media reports indicate that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are slated to meet later today.)
At press time, it also seemed possible that the Council’s next briefing from Annan may be moved forward from its currently scheduled date of 26 June to later this week.
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