UN peacekeepers set to leave Syria

U.N. observers have had little access to the country in the last month because of the increased violence in the country. On Wednesday, a bomb exploded outside a hotel where observers were staying. No one was injured.

The peacekeeping mission was set to end Sunday without an extension by the Security Council. The Council on Thursday chose not to act.

Instead, the United Nations will set up a liaison office in Damascus, the capital of Syria, which will contain a smaller U.N. presence.

“What is most important is there will be a UN presence and we do hope [it is] a useful UN presence,” said Gérard Araud, representative of France to the United Nations. He is serving as president of the Security Council in the month of August.

While the Security Council had authority over the peacekeeping mission, the liaison office will be under the control of the secretary general.

There are currently 101 military observers in the country and 72 civilian U.N. staff in Syria. All will leave the country by Aug. 24.

The State Department said it would support a smaller U.N. observer presence in the country. The department agreed with the United Nations that the prior mission had lost its effectiveness. 

“We don't think that they're able to do the job that they were sent there to do, which was to monitor a ceasefire, which we don't have, and to be able to move freely around the country, which they haven't been able to do,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.

Details of the newly announced, smaller mission in the country were not available Thursday, said Eduardo Del Buey, deputy spokesman for the secretary general.

“The mission mandate ends on Aug. 19, and we will be ready as of that date to be able to have people on the ground,” he said.