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UN cuts Syria observer mission but will set up Damascus office

United Nations' observer mission to leave Syria amid continued violence.

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A fighter with the Free Syrian Army prepares his gun during a firefight in the neighborhood of Ezza'a in Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 3, 2012. (Nicole Tung/GlobalPost)

The United Nations' Security Council today chose not to extend its mission in Syria past its Sunday deadline due to ongoing violence, but will set up a new civilian-staffed office in Damascus to help with conflict resolution, according to the Associated Press

BBC News cited France's UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, as saying that international observers will pull out because "conditions to continue UNSMIS [the acronym referring to the UN's Syria mission] were not filled," referring to recent surge in violence in Syria, where clashes today killed over two dozen. 

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Also today, Russia called for the UN's Security Council as well as Saudi and Iranian envoys to meet on Syria on Friday, a request that comes as the Organization for Islamic Cooperation suspended Syria's membership over the violence. 

The country's President Bashar al-Assad, faced with an 18-month armed insurrection, has been locked in an increasingly bloody fight for control of the country in violence that's taken some 18,000 lives. 

There are concerns that the situation has recently devolved into all-out civil war, with several high-profile bombings seen in Damascus -- including one uncomfortably near a hotel used by UN staffers on Wednesday. 

The international community has been at odds over the best way to address the crisis in Syria. Araud today said the UN's 15-member council had decided to set up the liaison office at the request of UN secretory general Ban Ki-moon, but the details have yet to be worked out, according to The New York Times

The UN observer mission was a part of a now-failed peace plan put forth by now-resigned Syrian international envoy Kofi Annan. The plan was agreed to by Assad and the rebels in theory but not, as it turned out, in practice. 

Originally a 300-strong force, the UN's remaining 101 observers are due to leave the country in the following days, leaving behind a small contingent to man the agency's new liaison office, said reports. 

Annan has yet to be replaced, but according to The New York Times, a top candidate is rumored to be longtime Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/120816/un-cuts-syria-observer-mission-but-sets-up-damascus-o