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UN pulls out of Syria

BEIRUT — United Nations military observers left Damascus today after a four-month mission in which they became helpless spectators of Syria’s spiralling conflict, instead of monitoring a ceasefire between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels.

Seven UN cars were seen leaving a Damascus hotel this morning, carrying some of the last members of a mission which at its height deployed 300 observers across the country.

The unarmed monitors suspended operations in June after coming under fire and most have already left the country, leaving a small “liaison office” in Damascus in case a chance for a political settlement to the bloodshed ever emerges.

“Our mission failed because the two sides did not abide by their commitments,” one uniformed UN observer, who declined to be named, said at the Damascus hotel.

Battling a 17-month-old uprising against his family’s 42-year rule, Assad has used fighter jets and helicopter gunships to pound rebel strongholds. Insurgents have stepped up their attacks, hitting tanks, military convoys and security buildings.

The mandate of the monitoring mission, known as UNSMIS, expired on Sunday night after diplomats at the United Nations said conditions for continuing operations had not been met. The last monitors are expected to be out of the country by Friday.

After a brief lull, violence intensified during the monitors’ presence in Syria and at least 9,000 people have been killed since they arrived to oversee a ceasefire declared on April 12 by former UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan.

The truce never took hold. At least 18,000 people have now been killed in Syria since the anti-Assad revolt began. At least 170,000 people have fled the country, according to the United Nations, and 2.5 million need aid inside Syria.

Rebels seized control of districts in Damascus and Aleppo last month, as well as several border crossings and swathes of northern territory, before Assad’s forces launched counter-offensives in the country’s two main cities.

Today, Assad’s troops backed by tanks tried to retake the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya from opposition fighters. (Reuters)

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