UN Pulls Observers From Syria, Says Both Sides Chose War
A few days after a UN report saying that Syrian government forces and Syrian rebels are both guilty of war crimes to a greater or lesser extent, observers for the peacekeeping organisation have been pulled out of the country.
Both sides have chosen the path of war and conflict, said UN Assistant Secretary-general for Peacekeeping Operations Edmund Mulet. A UN liaison office will remain in Damascus, he added.
As one of the nearerest ports in the region, Cyprus is watching nervously for an influx of refugees or other types of spillover from the conflict. There are already signs this is happening. Earlier this week, an Air France plane was diverted to Cyprus from Beirut for safety reasons after the airport was blocked by Shiite protesters angry at the kidnapping of a prominent al Mokdad tribe member in Syria.
Last month, Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Marcoullis met with her counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow amid new fears that the Syrian government will use chemical weapons.
The two ministers said they were particularly concerned about the escalating violence in Syria and want to see a peaceful solution of the internal crisis without outside military interventions and 'with full respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.'
Cyprus and Russia are close allies, and so are Russia and Syria, which puts Cyprus in an extremely delicate position given that it is an EU member state and expected to enforce sanctions against the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, the Syrian airforce started an attack on the city of Aleppo, the largest population centre in the country. Syria has a population of 26 million people.
The EU decided to tighten sanctions on the Syrian government amid fears that it will use chemical weapons on the population. EU countries will be obliged to inspect vessels and aircraft heading to Syria if they suspect the cargo contains arms or equipment for 'internal repression', according to a statement after this week's EU Foreign Affairs Council.
"This obligation applies in member states' seaports and airports as well as in their territorial sea, in accordance with international law. Items that may not be exported to Syria under EU law must be seized. In addition, aircraft and vessels heading to Syria will have to provide additional pre-arrival and pre-departure information on their cargo," said EU foreign ministers, including Marcoullis.
Cyprus is right in the middle of a major shipping line as one of the closest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean to Syria. Earlier this year, the government came under fire for not confiscating arms being shipped to Syria, from Russia, even though it stopped the vessel carrying them, the MV Chariot. Since the deadly explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base - in which 98 containers of confiscated arms blew up - the government has treated vessels suspected of smuggling arms like plague ships.
The constant supply of weapons to Syria from Russia has frustrated the international community. Last week, an angry William Hague said the UK and the rest of the international community would do more outside the UN Security Council after a Chapter 7 resolution calling for Bashar al Assad to step down failed to pass due to Russian and Chinese opposition. The UK will give practical support to the Syrian opposition - but not lethal support, said Hague.
However, he did not rule out arming the rebels in the future. According to information, the Syrian opposition is already receiving arms, likely from Saudi Arabia. The UK favours an arms embargo on every side in Syria, but arms trading is happening anyway, said Hague.
"We will work with now more than 100 nations in the Friends of Syria to intensify the pressure on the Assad regime, to isolate them more completely from the rest of the world," he said.
The picture that is emerging is that Russia is backing the current Syrian regime headed by Bashar al Assad, and the Arab League, EU and US are backing the rebels. Whether Cyprus can play this kind of game by sitting on the fence between both sides remains to be seen. Which side will it choose, ask observers.
The civil war in Syria is growing worse. Last month, three Syrian ministers were killed in a suicide bombing and there is all-out war in Damascus and other parts of the country. Rebel fighters say they have taken strategic towns along the Turkey-Syria border.
Turkey and Russia are closely shadowing the conflict, Turkey has armed troops built up along its border with Syria after one of its jets was shot down over the country. Ankara has also suspended all trucks from passing through its border.
And Russia has just sent six warships to its port in Tartus, two of them via Cyprus' Limassol Port.
An estimated 17,000 people - mostly civilians - have died in over the last year-and-a-half in the civil war that developed after several mass killings of anti-government protesters.
Syrian Map: World Sites Atlas
Message from CyprusNewsReport.com. We can't do it without your help. Please support our independence so we can keep bringing you high-quality, free news from Cyprus and the region.
To make and read comments, become a full member of your news community, click here.