Kofi Annan, whose six-point peace plan is being monitored by a team of United Nations observers in the country, told the security council that a reduction in military operations was “not meaningful if replaced by other forms of violence”.
He said there was a “frightening” possibility that despite the peace plan Syria would descend into full-scale civil war, something that a separate report by the International Committee for the Red Cross said had already happened in parts of the country, notably Homs and Idlib.
The UN monitoring mission is supposed to last three months, but France said last week that Mr Annan’s interim report would be key to its credibility
The observers have already reported that while the situation is calmer than before their arrival, there are still regular breaches by both sides, while the Syrian government has failed to fulfil several of its commitments under the plan.
Mr Annan went further, saying that there might have been an increase in government repression. Diplomats who attended the briefing reported him as being particularly concerned that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were “intensifying”.
“Troops continue to press against the population, yet more discreetly,” one diplomat said in summary of the report, which was not released publicly. “He cited limited progress on the military front. The onus remains with the government to prevent further militarisation of the conflict.”
He added that the plan was not an “open-ended commitment but a possible last chance to avoid civil war”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the death toll on both sides, gave new figures for the number of deaths yesterday. It said almost 12,000 people had died in total, of whom 8,515 were civilians, 2,690 were soldiers and 720 were soldiers who had defected to the rebels.
More than 800 of those had died since the ceasefire began – 589 civilians, 213 soldiers and 29 defectors.
Nothing Mr Annan or the ICRC said yesterday is likely to affect the immediate course of the conflict. There is no sign that either Russia or China are ready for tougher action against Mr Assad, nor that the rebels or their spokesmen abroad in the Syrian National Council are willing to accept Mr Assad continuing in power.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, insisted despite Mr Annan’s comments that the situation was “moving on in a positive direction”.