By Marwan Makdesi
DAMASCUS, July 5 (Reuters) - The head of U.N. monitors in Syria said on Thursday the mission must stay, despite the fact that the ceasefire they were sent to police is non-existent and violence is reaching an "unprecedented level".
General Robert Mood said the 300-strong mission should be restructured to help support the political dialogue that foreign powers say is the only way out of the crisis.
"Now we are in a situation where we have the contacts and knowledge, but we have no ceasefire. So it is time to stop spreading ourselves out too thin and restructure in a way that will allow us, once we resume our activities, to conduct targeted tasks that require longer periods of stay in particular areas," Mood told a news conference in Damascus.
Diplomats at the United Nations in New York said last month they were considering scaling down or eliminating the unarmed observer force, whose mission is currently suspended, if the bloodshed was not significantly reduced.
Activists say more than 15,000 people have been killed since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. In recent weeks, they have reported death tolls of around 100 a day.
Special Envoy Kofi Annan sent the U.N. monitors to observe the implementation of a ceasefire that was agreed in April. Although this quickly fell apart, the monitors have been instrumental in reporting on massacres of civilians.
Annan has now changed tactics, working to create a political transition plan through an "Action Group" of representatives from Western and Gulf Arab states supporting Assad's opponents, and Syria's main ally Russia, which is backed by China.
Mood said consolidating the mission's eight bases across Syria into regional centres would give it "the flexibility to effectively work on facilitating political dialogue and stability projects", although he did not explain how this would work.
The U.N. Security Council will determine the monitoring mission's fate in the coming weeks, but Mood said world powers should continue to seek a solution, no matter what the decision.
China on Thursday said the United Nations "should strive to implement the consensus" reached at the Geneva talks.
"Right now, we believe that finding a political resolution to the Syria issue has entered a crucial phase," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
Mood said the international community had a moral as well as political responsibility towards Syria's people.
"We cannot and will not turn our eyes and ears away from your plight and will continue our work to find new paths to political dialogue and peaceful resolution to the crisis," the Norwegian general said. (Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Kevin Liffey)
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