Homs has been under siege for a week, part of a major escalation of violence around the country that forced the 300-strong UN observer force in Syria to call off its patrols.
“The humanitarian situation in Homs is very difficult,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “It is very clear that the army wants to retake Homs.”
The Observatory asked the UN on Saturday to intervene in the violence in Homs and evacuate more than 1,000 families, including women and children, whose lives are in danger. It also said dozens of wounded people in rebel-controlled areas cannot get medicine or doctors to treat them.
Maj Gen Robert Mood, the chief of the observer mission in Syria, said on Saturday that intensifying clashes over the past 10 days were “posing significant risks” to the unarmed observers who were spread out across the country, and impeding their ability to carry out their mandate. The observers’ decision came after weeks of escalating attacks that have left dozens dead.
The observers have been the only working part of a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, which the international community sees as its only hope to stop the bloodshed. The plan called for the foreign monitors to check compliance with a ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect on April 12, but they have become the most independent witnesses to the carnage, as government and rebel forces have largely ignored the truce.
The statement calling off observer patrols reinforced fears Syria is sliding closer to civil war 15 months after the rebellion to oust President Bashar Assad began.
In Turkey, the leader of Syria’s main opposition group, Abdulbaset Sieda, said in a speech that the suspension of the observers’ activities shows that “the international community has given up hope on this regime that is in its last days”. He added that Assad’s government has lost control over many large areas and “it’s now suffering from confusion and committing more crimes as revenge.”
“The international community must bear its . . . responsibilities to take decisive decisions through the (UN) Security Council under Chapter 7 to protect civilians,” said Sieda.
A Chapter 7 resolution authorises actions to enforce that can ultimately include the use of military force, which US administration and European officials, for now, are playing down as a possibility.