The United Nations is to keep unarmed monitors in Syria despite the escalation of hostilities which led to the suspension of patrols, top UN officials said Tuesday.
Major General Robert Mood, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), told the UN Security Council the nearly 300 monitors were "morally obliged" to stay despite facing intensive attacks, diplomats said.
"We are going nowhere," Mood told reporters after the closed meeting.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous reaffirmed the message. "We have decided, for the time being, not to touch, not to modify, but rather to maintain the integrity of the mission," he told reporters.
The future of UNSMIS is being discussed as various diplomatic initiatives have been launched on Syria and the mission's current mandate ends on July 20, Ladsous added.
The Norwegian general and French peacekeeping chief highlighted the dangers faced by the observers. Officially, the UN force is monitoring an international peace plan agreed with President Bashar al-Assad but which has never been implemented.
The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and snipers has increased, causing many of the mounting casualties in Syria, Mood told the 15-nation council. Syrian activists say more than 14,400 have died in the past 15 months.
"Indirect fire" incidents in which bullets struck within 400 meters of observers had been reported almost daily, diplomats at the closed meeting quoted Mood as saying.
UNSMIS vehicles have 10 times been the target of "direct fire" when they had been hit and nine UN vehicles had been hit in the past eight days alone, Mood said.
The UN suspended monitoring operations on Saturday because of the increase in hostilities.
"I conveyed first and last that the suffering of the Syrian people, the suffering of men, women and children in Syria, some of them trapped by fighting, is getting worse," Mood told reporters.
Mood said the suspension of UNSMIS patrols did not mean it would abandon Syria. UNMIS was "morally obliged not to turn away" and "must redouble efforts," Mood was quoted as saying.
A Russian envoy at the meeting complained, however, that Mood should have consulted the Security Council before suspending operations, diplomats said. Igor Pankin, Russia's deputy UN ambassador, said Assad's government could not take all the blame for the violence.
Russia, Syria's main international ally, and China have twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions which had just hinted at sanctions on Assad.
The United States and European nations on the Security Council are now again pressing Russia to agree UN measures to back the six-point peace plan of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is to make recommendations on the future of the Syria mission, called for "sustained pressure" to be put on Assad to apply the peace plan.
Ban is "gravely concerned" over the rising death toll and considers a siege of the protest city of Homs to be "particularly alarming," said assistant secretary general Oscar Fernandez Taranco.
UNSMIS is trying to arrange a ceasefire in Homs so civilians can be brought out, Mood said. But there has been no sign of a halt to hostilities around the city.
Syrian rights monitors say about 1,000 families are trapped in the city as it comes under intense bombardment from Assad's forces. The government claims that "terrorist groups" in Homs are using civilians as human shields.