The United Nations peacekeeping chief Thursday highlighted the ongoing fighting in the city of Aleppo, noting that UN observers continue to try to carry out their work as the "spiral of violence" throughout Syria increases.
"The focus two weeks ago was on Damascus. The focus is now on Aleppo, where there has been a considerable build-up of military means, and where we have reason to believe that the main battle is about to start," the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, said. He added that the fighting continues in various locations, including the capital, Damascus.
Ladsous was addressing reporters after having briefed the Security Council on the situation on the ground in the Middle Eastern country, as called for in resolution 2059, which the Council adopted in late July.
The resolution extended the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for another 30 days, and requested a report back to the 15-nation body on the text's implementation within 15 days.
The resolution also indicated that further renewals to UNSMIS' mandate would be possible only if it can be confirmed that the use of heavy weapons has ceased and a reduction in violence by all sides was sufficient to allow the Mission it to implement its mandate. With the 30-day extension, UNSMIS' mandate is set to expire on August 19.
"We have another 17 days to see whether something happens that will change the situation as was outlined by the resolution 2059," Ladsous said.
"Beyond that, of course it will be for the Security Council to decide, but clearly - and I said so to the Council - the Secretary-General's view is that the United Nations will have to somehow remain in Syria," he added. "And this is what he is consulting about, in order to make a proposal to the Security Council in due course."
Established in April, UNSMIS had suspended its regular patrols in mid-June due to the escalating violence, in which over 15,000 people, mostly civilians, have reportedly been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago. Over recent days, there have been reports of a build-up of forces and an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as Aleppo and Damascus.
Half of the 300 of observers serving with UNSMIS were temporarily sent home in late July, in view of the constraints they faced, particularly in terms of security.
Despite the current limitations on their work, Ladsous said, the remaining observers continue to try to carry out their mandated tasks, within the framework of resolution 2059. Their tasks include monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of the six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, who Thursday announced his intention not to renew his mandate when it expires at the end of August.
"They [the observers] continue to try their best to monitor, to observe, to report. They did more than 50 patrols over the last two weeks, including some long-range patrols where they stayed overnight in places," Ladsous said. "So they report, they inform us. And they try - wherever it's possible - to mediate, to arrange local ceasefires, humanitarian pauses to allow civilian populations to withdraw from shelling areas."
Earlier this week, UNSMIS observers reported an upsurge in the violence in the city of Aleppo, with helicopters, tanks and artillery being used.
"We know for a fact that the opposition does have heavy weapons - that we have seen. We have not yet seen the opposition using... those heavy weapons against Government forces. But we know that they have tanks, that they have armoured personnel carriers, etcetera - that's a fact," Ladsous said.
On Monday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had received reports of around 200,000 people fleeing the fighting in Aleppo, with many of those people displaced within other parts of Syria, which has made humanitarian access to them difficult.