U.N. monitors quit, saying Syrians choose "path of war"
By Dominic Evans and Hadeel Al Shalchi
BEIRUT/ALEPPO (Reuters) - Syria's government and rebels have "chosen the path of war", a U.N. peacekeeping chief said as the world body ended its doomed monitoring mission to Damascus and deadlock persists among world powers over how to contain the spreading conflict.
Two weeks after former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan quit as mediator in frustration with the failure of a four-month-old truce, military observers have no peace on the ground to monitor and U.N. officials said on Thursday the last of the few dozen remaining team members would quit Damascus by August 24.
"It is clear that both sides have chosen the path of war, open conflict, and the space for political dialogue and cessation of hostilities and mediation is very, very reduced at this point," said deputy U.N. peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet.
At a time when fighting is raging around Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, and tit-for-tat sectarian kidnappings have spread the Syrian conflict into fragile neighbouring Lebanon, Western powers and Russia remain resolutely at odds in the Security Council over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian rebels, who launched offensives following a bombing on July 18 that killed key Assad lieutenants in Damascus, may have taken heart from Western and Gulf Arab sources saying on Thursday that the president's feared brother Maher, a senior military figure, had lost a leg in that bomb attack.
However, a Lebanese politician with close ties to the Assad administration said he doubted Maher had been badly wounded. And Syria's foreign minister, while not addressing the report directly, scoffed at rebel hopes; Walid al-Moualem told state television that talk of defeating the army was "delusional".
Moscow, which advocates a transitional peace in which Assad might play a role, criticised the United States, which says the Syrian president must step down immediately. Russia's diplomats said Washington had shown a lack of commitment to Annan's tattered April peace plan by its insistence that the monitoring mission, UNSMIS, should be wound up when its mandate expired.
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