As Syria flares, some U.N.’ers take flight

The death and discord plaguing Syria hit home for the United Nations on
Wednesday as the world body temporarily withdrew some staff members amid the
violence there.

The United Nations is relocating 26 non-essential international staff members
and their families from Syria, said Michael Williams, the U.N. special
coordinator for Lebanon.

He had been concerned over the conflict in Latakia, the port city where
Syrian forces kicked off an offensive this weekend.

There are normally more than 160 international U.N. staffers in Syria, with
many of them based in Damascus, a spokesman said. The largest U.N. agency in
Syria has been the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, with a total of 61.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday will be briefed on Syria in closed
consultations by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay; Valerie
Amos, under-secretary-general of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief
efforts, and a U.N. political officer.

There’s no expected outcome from the meeting like a presidential statement or
resolution, but its purpose is to get the 15-member council closer to a decision
on how to proceed.

In a presidential statement this month, the Security Council called on Syria
“to alleviate the humanitarian situation in crisis areas by ceasing the use of
force against affected towns, to allow expeditious and unhindered access for
international humanitarian agencies and workers, and cooperate fully with the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

“We hope that we’re near the point that a mission will be able to go in,”
Amos told reporters on Wednesday.

Asked where they would want to go in Syria, Amos answered, “areas where
there’ve been reports of fighting is our priority.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council is also focused on the unrest. It plans to hold
a special session Monday regarding the situation in Syria, according to Cedric
Sepe, press officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He said member states have called for the session, in Geneva, Switzerland,
and it may spill into the next day.

These moves reflect international anxiety and outrage among world powers,
including the United States, and among Syria’s neighbors, including Jordan and
Turkey, over the crackdown.

Tunisia has recalled its ambassador to Syria for “consultations,” the
Tunisian news agency said Wednesday, citing an “authorized” Foreign Ministry
source.

“This measure was taken as a result of the recent dangerous developments in
Syria,” the source reportedly said.

Last week, Saudi King Abdullah called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria
and recalled the Saudi ambassador from Damascus.

Bahrain and Kuwait also have recalled their ambassadors from Syria and called
on the Bashar al-Assad regime to end crackdowns.

While the government has maintained that it is targeting “armed groups” and
“terrorists” during the country’s five-month long unrest, witnesses and
activists say the government has been brutally cracking down on civilians amid
calls for al-Assad’s ouster.

Reports of violence persisted Wednesday.

Syria’s state-run media said military forces have departed two major cities
on both ends of the country after putting down “armed terrorist groups,” but
activists in at least one of those cities dispute that assertion.

Security force pullouts have been reported in the western port city of
Latakia and the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. But one activist group, the Local
Coordination Committees of Syria, said they haven’t left the restive Latakia
neighborhood of Ramel.

There is a lot of anti-government sentiment in Ramel, which also is the home
of a Palestinian refugee camp. The camp normally holds 10,000 people, but
reports have surfaced that many people are fleeing the violence are going
there.

Gunfire was heard sporadically there Wednesday morning, and snipers were
perched upon rooftops, said the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of
activists who organize and document protests.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another activist group, said
Wednesday that a woman in Latakia’s Al Kalaa neighborhood died of wounds
sustained Monday and that an activist saw three civilians who were killed by
gunshots in one of the government hospitals.

In the Idlib province city of Jabala al-Zawiya in the northwest, a man
standing on his balcony was killed as security forces carried out military and
security operations, the observatory said.

“I don’t know if I can get outside of the city now; the military is
everywhere,” a resident said.

Two people were killed in the western city of Homs, the observatory said. One
was killed in the Nazehein neighborhood during security raids and another died
in the Armenian neighborhood during sniper fire. Security forces are conducting
raids and have arrested more than 40 people.

The Local Coordination Committees said that at least 2,545 people have died
since the protests began. The vast majority were civilians, and 391 were
security personnel, the group said.

CNN cannot independently verify opposition or government
claims because Syria has restricted international journalists from reporting
inside the country.

(edition.cnn.com / 17.08.2011)

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