UNITED NATIONS, July 6 (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon recommended to the U.N. Security Council on Friday that its Syria monitoring mission shift focus from observing a non-existent ceasefire to securing a political solution to the conflict that has killed thousands.
The deeply divided council must make a decision on what to do with the U.N. mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS, before July 20 when its mandate expires. The council is scheduled to discuss the issue on Wednesday and is due to vote on July 18.
The 15-member council approved in April the deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria to oversee a ceasefire that has failed to take hold. The mission is part of a six-point peace plan proposed by international envoy Kofi Annan.
Ban's report to the council, obtained by Reuters, recommends the emphasis of UNSMIS' work shift from military observers - who suspended most of their monitoring activities on June 16 because of increased risk amid rising violence - to the roughly 100 civilian staff focusing on a political solution and issues like human rights.
The mission would keep its current mandate for up to 300 unarmed observers under this option, but significantly fewer likely would be needed to support the new focus.
"If UNSMIS were re-oriented in this manner, the Mission would redeploy from the field to the capital (Damascus) to minimize risks, retaining core civilian and military observer capacities to focus on the spectrum of initiatives feeding into the political process," Ban's report said.
"A reduced military observer component would support these civilian-led activities with military liaison and, as it does now, conduct visits to incident sites to conduct fact-finding and verification tasks," the report said.
While saying this approach would strengthen the conciliation approach and build support for Annan's peace plan, Ban warned the Security Council that it had drawbacks.
"At a minimum, it implies that establishment of a sustained cessation of violence is not an immediate prospect, and limits observation and reporting capacity concerning violations of a reputed cessation of violence accordingly," Ban said.
"Nonetheless, the risks associated with this approach may be more acceptable in comparison to the benefits of enhanced engagement and the uncertainty of alternatives," he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have killed more than 15,000 people since a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters began in March 2011, Syrian dissidents and Western leaders say. Damascus says rebels have killed several thousand of its security forces.
UNSMIS head General Robert Mood suggested on Thursday that he would support such a reconfiguration of the mission. He said the mission must stay, even though the ceasefire it was sent to police is non-existent and violence is reaching an "unprecedented level."
WITHDRAWAL "A LOSS OF CONFIDENCE"
Ban presented other options that included withdrawing the mission altogether, expanding the number of military observers or adding an armed protection force, and leaving the mission as it is - although he said this last approach meant UNSMIS "would remain configured for tasks it cannot implement."
He said a complete withdrawal would "signal a loss of confidence in an early return to a sustainable cessation of violence and remove the sole source of independent monitoring of the six-point plan implementation on the ground."
"It would likely precipitate a further blow to efforts to stabilize the situation on the ground, and render the prospect of a negotiated Syrian-led transition, as laid out by the Action Group, more difficult," he added.
Russia and China, which have vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to pressure Assad, say they are committed to Annan's peace plan and have indicated they want the U.N. mission to remain in place as is.
But the United States, European council members and others have suggested that keeping hundreds of military observers in Syria to monitor a non-working ceasefire makes no sense.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated on Friday a call for a U.N. Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the Council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention. U.S. officials have said they are talking about sanctions on Syria, not military intervention.
Annan's peace plan calls for an end to fighting by government security forces and rebels, withdrawal of heavy weapons from towns, return of the army to barracks, humanitarian access and dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at a "political transition" for the country.
"The six-point plan initially provided a mechanism to assist parties in de-escalating the conflict. Regrettably, it has not been implemented in any meaningful way," Ban said in his report.
"As of now, the Government of Syria and the armed opposition both appear to have chosen to pursue a military response to the current conflict, narrowing the space for comprehensive dialogue between the parties on what the future of their country should look like and how it can be achieved," he said.
World powers struck an agreement in Geneva on Saturday that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there, but they remained at odds over what part Assad might play in the process. (Editing by Jim Loney and Vicki Allen)
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS