UN observers to be withdrawn from Syria within days

The remaining UN observers in Syria will be pulled out within days, removing the only international presence on the ground in a swelling conflict that claims scores of lives every day.

The UN Security Council president, Gerard Araud, said members had agreed that it was not possible for the mission to continue after its mandate expired this Sunday, given that there had been no halt in the use of heavy weaponry. A "liaison office" will be set up instead. Deployed in May to monitor a ceasefire that never took hold, the unarmed observers have been severely impeded by the violence in the country. The 100 observers who remain are largely confined to their hotel in Damascus.

As the regime strikes rebel strongholds in the countryside from the air, the rebels have been pushing further into the heart of the capital.

It was also claimed yesterday that Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of the Syrian president, lost a leg in a bomb attack in Damascus last month. The blast killed four of President Bashar al-Assad's advisers, including his brother-in-law.

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