There are growing indications that U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's mediation efforts in Syria are failing and that the presence of U.N. monitors may actually be making conditions worse.
Monitors toured neighborhoods in Homs and several suburbs of Damascus Monday and Tuesday. After they left, President Bashar Assad's military forces shelled the same areas and attacked civilians suspected of talking to the monitors. Many had their homes burned down or were dragged out of their residences and shot.
Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said U.N. officials are aware of the new accounts of atrocities. "We have credible reports" that "these people who approach the observers may be approached by security forces or (the) Syrian army and harassed or arrested or even worse, perhaps killed," he said.
On Monday, crowds in Hama welcomed a U.N. truce observer team. Following their visit, government troops opened fire on the same city streets, killing dozens. Regime foes say that two days later, as many as 70 more people were killed when soldiers attacked an impoverished residential area of Hama. Many died after shells landed near their homes, causing the buildings to collapse and crush families hiding inside.
As the carnage mounted, Annan told the U.N. Security Council in a closed-door session Tuesday that he had received written assurances last weekend from Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Moallem that "the withdrawal of massed troops and heavy weapons from in and around population centers is now complete and military operations have ceased." Annan said he was "encouraged" by Moallem's pledge. There are just 15 observers in Syria now; Annan wants to increase the number to 300.
"There is a chance to expand and consolidate the cessation of violence," Annan added. "Observers not only see what is going on, but their presence has the potential to change the political dynamics."
"Those words well captured the delusion of Mr. Annan and those who support his diplomacy. There has been no 'cessation of violence'; numerous Syrians have been killed every day since the supposed U.N. ceasefire went into effect April 1," the Washington Post observed in a scathing editorial. "The observers are not 'changing dynamics' but providing cover and even targets for the regime of Bashar al-Assad."
For a growing number of Syrians, Annan's observers have become a target of ridicule. The New York Times reported that in one northern Syrian province a group of students dressed as UN observers wandered through a crowd of protesters pretending to be blind and with toilet paper stuffed in their ears.
As the carnage continued to mount this week, Obama administration officials acknowledged in Senate Armed Services Committee testimony that the U.N. mission was failing.
"I would say it is failing and that Annan himself is extremely worried about the plan," said Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.