United Nations observers monitoring violence in Syria suspended operations today amidst increasing violence and threats to their safety. The lead monitor, Robert Mood, became concerned after some of the monitors came under fire last Tuesday as they entered the scene of a massacre. This comes over a month after a ceasefire was supposed to take effect. However, Assad’s remaining loyal forces continue to shell centers of opposition in an attempt crush the sixteen month old uprising.
The United Nations Security Council approved the monitoring mission on April 14th as the internationally agreed upon ceasefire collapsed. However, despite the presence of the monitors, Assad continued his violence campaign. During this time there were two instances of mass killing in Houla and Qubair that garnered significant media attention. More broadly, thousands of civilians have been killed since the mission began with unofficial estimates around 14,000 dead.
Today’s development is another blow to international efforts at resolving the Syrian crisis through peaceful diplomacy. The now famous Annan six-point plan adopted last April was widely seen as the most promising peace effort. However, after months of continued violence many are calling the plan a failure and the suspension of the monitoring mission will only bolster those claims. Realizing the fragility of his efforts, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a revised agenda that reflects a more nuanced understanding of the conflict. The plan calls for the creation of a Syria “contact group” consisting of regional partners and other relevant state actors. This group, notably including Russia, would try to find a political solution to the crisis most likely involving Assad’s protection in exile.
While today’s announcement is not favorable to non-violent resolution measures, it should not be seen as an invitation for military operations. The international community must remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution. Recent claims that the conflict is now a civil war is somewhat of a misnomer because of the international support opposition and loyalist forces receive from Russia, Saudi Arabia, others. In order to reach a responsible non-military conclusion, these actors must be deliberately engaged and persuaded that a post-Assad Syria is safer for the region.