UK & World News
Syria: UN Suspends Monitoring Operations
The UN has suspended its monitoring operations in Syria because of increasing violence between President Bashar al Assad's supporters and rebels seeking his overthrow.
The observers have been in the country to oversee UN special envoy Kofi Annan's ceasefire plan, which never really took hold.
An exiled oposition leader is now calling for the deployment of UN peacekeepers - a step up from the observer mission.
The military head of the UN mission said increasing violence over the past 10 days meant the risk to his team was too great.
"The observers will not be conducting patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice," General Robert Mood said.
The situation was impeding the 300 unarmed UN monitors from carrying out their mandate to observe the April 12 ceasefire deal, he added.
Both sides have continued to stage daily attacks and the observers themselves have been caught up in the violence on several occasions.
"This suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis. Operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities," he said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UN's decision underlines the extent of the deterioration of security and stability in Syria.
"This worsening situation has been caused by the actions of the Assad regime," he said.
"As Kofi Annan has said, the Syrian regime bears the primary responsibility for ending the violence and I condemn in the strongest terms its absolute failure to do so. I also call on the armed opposition in Syria to stop its violence."
Hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and government forces, are reported to have been killed in the two months since Mr Annan's ceasefire deal was supposed to come into effect.
Shots were last week fired at a car carrying UN observers after they were turned away from the town of Haffa by angry supporters of President Assad.
The people threw stones and metal rods at their convoy, a spokeswoman for the monitors said.
Sky News foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, who recently visited Syria, this week reported that government troops and opposition fighters are now based so close to each other in some areas, they could shout at one another.
Meanwhile, the former chief of the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has urged the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers instead of observers.
"We have to send UN peacekeepers to Syria on a mission with more people who would be able to protect themselves from the violence of the regime," said Burhan Ghalioun, ex-leader and current political bureau chief of the SNC."Today, it is clear that one cannot rely on unarmed observers," he said.
Mr Ghalioun's call comes after a two-day meeting of the major Syrian opposition factions to try to find some way of working together in the event of a regime change.