Relatives of Lebanese who had gone missing in Syria chant
slogans during a protest to enquire about their relatives'
fate, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim
The United Nations says it is suspending its aid
operations in Syria and withdrawing all non-essential
international staff due to the worsening security situation.
Up to 25 of about 100 foreign staff could leave this week, it
said, adding that more armoured vehicles were needed after
attacks in recent weeks on humanitarian aid convoys and the
hijacking of goods or vehicles.
Some convoys had been caught in crossfire between Syrian
government and rebel forces, including an incident near the
airport in which two staff were injured, it said.
"We can confirm that the United Nations in Syria will pull
out non-essential international personnel with immediate
effect," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin
Nesirky told reporters.
"The UN will also suspend its missions within the country
until further notice," he said in New York.
In all, the world body deploys more than 1,000 national and
international staff in Syria, but movement and communications
have become more difficult due to intensified fighting near
the capital and a 48-hour Internet blackout last week, the UN
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Some UN agencies are relocating staff from the northern town
of Aleppo, which rebels are battling to control, it said.
"My understanding is that international staff will be going
to Jordan," a UN source in Geneva told Reuters.
Damascus had been considered "quite safe" until last week
when the main airport was shut down and flights into Syria
cancelled after several attacks by rebels, OCHA said.
"The situation is significantly changing," said Sabir Mughal,
the UN's chief security adviser in Syria. "There is an
increased risk for humanitarians as a result of
indiscriminate shooting or clashes between the parties."
MORTARS AND SHOOT-OUTS
For two thirds of the month of November, UN security
considered many main routes in the country unsafe for travel
or there was not enough information to send staff on field
trips with confidence, OCHA said on its news service www.irinnews.org.
"Mortars have landed and shoot-outs have taken place just
steps away from UN offices; shelling can be heard on an
hourly basis both from their offices and places of
residence," it said.
Eight UN staff have been killed along with seven volunteers
of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent during the 20-month-old
conflict which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has been supplying food
rations to up to 1.5 million people in Syria, many of them
forced to flee their homes due to fighting.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is providing assistance to
families and helping to repair water and sanitation systems,
while the World Health Organization (WHO) is delivering
medical aid to hospitals and clinics.
The UN refugee agency has supplied winter blankets and
clothing to some of the more than 1.2 million displaced
within Syria, including in the flashpoint city of Homs last
week, and to the 465,000 refugees registered in neighbouring
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is
continuing operations "per usual", Geneva spokesman Alexis
Heeb said. The independent humanitarian agency - whose aid
workers do not travel in armoured vehicles - stopped using
the airport road months ago, considering it unsafe, he said.
"We're going ahead with distributions as usual, including a
new water project," Heeb told Reuters on Monday evening.