UN chief: Joint Syria mission, envoy discussed

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2012 6:30 PM
UN chief: Joint Syria mission, envoy discussed

The head of the Arab League plans to send observers back into Syria and has raised the possibility of a joint mission with the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.

The U.N. chief's comments to reporters _ after he briefed a closed U.N. Security Council session _ came amid a search for new diplomatic approaches to deal with the protracted violence in Syria.

Ban said he spoke Tuesday with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, who "intends to send the Arab League observer mission back to Syria and ask for U.N. help."

Ban added that Elaraby "further suggested that we consider a joint observer mission in Syria, including a joint special envoy."

The U.N. chief provided no specifics, but the idea appears aimed at giving the regional group a boost after the league's earlier mission was pulled out of the country because of security concerns.

"In the coming days we will further consult with the council before fleshing out details," Ban said. "We stand ready to assist in any way that will contribute toward improvement on the ground."

Ban also reiterated his "deep regret" over the council's inability to speak in one voice to stop the bloodshed. The U.N. says more than 5,400 people have died in Syria's 11-month crackdown on civilian protests.

Russia and China used their veto powers on Saturday to block a Security Council resolution backing an Arab League peace plan that calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step aside.

Ban said the lack of council unity "has encouraged the Syrian government" to step up its attacks on civilians.

"Thousands have been killed in cold blood, shredding President Assad's claims to speak for the Syrian people," Ban said. "I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of worse to come."

The Syrian regime has used mortars, artillery and other heavy weapons against the central city of Homs, where activists say hundreds have been killed since Saturday.

Ban said the violence "is unacceptable before humanity."

"How many deaths will it take to halt this dangerous slide toward civil war and sectarian strife?" he asked. "I am convinced that the deteriorating situation in Syria will not leave the rest of the region untouched."