Fears for the security of unarmed observers in Syria were heightened today after a roadside bomb struck an army truck accompanying a convoy of UN monitors, amid mounting warnings that the country risks slipping into a full scale civil war.
Major General Robert Mood, the head of the UN monitoring mission who was one of 12 observers in the convoy, described the attack as "a graphic example of violence that the Syrian people do not need". Six Syrian soldiers were reported to have been wounded in the blast, and although UN vehicles remained unscathed, the incident was an uncomfortably close call for the organisation.
Widespread violence has continued to ravage the country despite the presence of 70 UN peacekeepers, tasked with monitoring a month-old ceasefire that in reality never took hold, making their mission particularly risky. Today’s incident came a day after the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan gave a bleak update of the situation on the ground, warning that his six point peace plan - of which the ceasefire is a component - is the country's last chance to avert a disastrous civil war.
The UN cars, which were also transporting a number of journalists, had passed the point where the blast took place, and were about 100 meters further down the road when explosion struck the Syrian army truck at the back of the convoy. Footage from the scene showed the white flatbed truck with a cracked windscreen and bloodied Syrian soldiers.
The indented target of the attack was unclear, and no group had claimed responsibility last night. It is not the first near-miss for observers, however, with a blast in Idlib in late April striking close to the hotel where they were staying. “For me the important thing is really not speculating about who was the target, what was the target, but it is to make the point that this is what the Syrian people [are] seeing every day and it needs to stop,” said Maj Gen Mood.
The Syrian National Council is among opposition groups to accuse the government of a dirty tricks campaign - staging bombings to fit their narrative that terrorist groups are causing the unrest. However, activists on the ground have admitted that the rebels, poorly matched against the Syrian army’s firepower, have increasingly turned to improvised explosives. “We make homemade bombs, some of them work with car-key remotes,” said one activist with links to the Free Syrian Army during a recent visit to Lebanon.
In his comments to the UN Security Council before today’s attack Mr Annan said the levels of violence were “unacceptable”, with abuses by both sides. He warned that a civil war in Syria will have much “frightening” ramifications in a such a tinderbox region. Violence spilled over Syria’s borders again today as a 70-year-old woman in the Lebanese border village of al-Qaa was shot dead and her daughter was injured by gunfire from Syria.