BEIRUT – The head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria on Sunday urged both sides in the conflict to evacuate civilians trapped amid escalating violence.
“The parties must reconsider their position and allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones, without any preconditions, and ensure their safety,” Gen. Robert Mood said in a written statement.
The Norwegian general spoke a day after the U.N., citing a recent increase in hostilities, suspended its observer mission in Syria.
The almost 300 unarmed observers will remain in Syria but will not go out on patrols “until further notice,” the U.N. said. The observers have had several close calls, but the U.N. has reported no serious injuries among its staff.
Among other objectives, the peace plan written by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan called for a cease-fire in Syria and a daily, two-hour humanitarian “pause” in the fighting, designed to allow time to evacuate civilians and the wounded.
But prospects for the cease-fire appear to have dimmed in recent days as the fighting has intensified.
A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said more than 1,000 families were stranded in the central city of Homs, the center of the revolt against the government of President Bashar Assad. Government forces have been shelling rebel-held districts in Homs, the suburbs of Damascus and elsewhere, the opposition says.
According to the anti-Assad activists, scores of people have been killed in military bombardments and other government attacks, as government security forces have sought to oust rebels from strongholds across the country.
There was no independent confirmation of the extent of casualties.
Attempts to extricate civilians from Homs during the last week have been unsuccessful, Mood said.