The U.N. Security Council reached a tentative agreement Friday night on a resolution that would expand the number of U.N. cease-fire observers in Syria from 30 to 300 and let Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decide on their deployment based on conditions on the ground and consolidation of a cease-fire.
The final text calls on the Syrian government and the opposition to immediately halt all violence and urgently implement the six-point peace plan drafted by international envoy Kofi Annan. Ban accused Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday of failing to honor the cease-fire that took effect a week ago, expressing dismay that violence has been escalating and claiming more lives.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said the text, negotiated over many hours, would be sent to capitals overnight for consideration and the council would meet at 11 a.m. EDT Saturday for a vote.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he hoped there would be a unanimous vote. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the current council president, said there is a possibility that not all 15 council members would agree to the text or would have instructions from their government.
The final draft merged two rival texts proposed by Russia, Syria's most important ally, and European Council members, and there were compromises on both sides.
The Europeans wanted to include a threat of nonmilitary sanctions against Syria if it fails to withdraw all its troops and heavy equipment from cities and towns as it agreed to do, but Russia and China vehemently oppose sanctions against Assad's government and that provision was eliminated.
Instead, the final draft uses language from the resolution adopted last Saturday authorizing deployment of the 30-strong advance team of observers. It expresses the Security Council's intention to assess implementation of the new resolution "and to consider further steps."
The final draft would establish a United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, to be known as UNSMIS, "comprising an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers as well as an appropriate civilian component" for an initial period of 90 days.
The Russian text had called for a limited civilian component, while the Europeans wanted to spell out the skills required of the civilians, including political, human rights, civil affairs and public security.
The key difference in the original texts was whether there should be any conditions for deployment of the expanded force.
The European text said before the new observers are deployed the secretary-general should determine "to his satisfaction" that Syria has implemented its pledge to send troops and heavy weapons back to barracks. The Russian draft had no conditions.
The compromise language in the final text says the expanded mission "shall be deployed expeditiously subject to assessment by the secretary-general of relevant developments on the ground, including the consolidation of the cessation of violence."
France's Araud said the Security Council wants to send the observers as quickly as possible but "at the same time, we have to take into account the danger for the observers — so that's the reason why the secretary-general will have to assess the situation on the ground."
"It's a new type of mission," Araud explained to reporters. "It's a first time that the U.N. is sending in a war zone observers, because there is still fighting ... there is still violence."
He said its important to have civilian observers as well who can see, for example, what's happening with the detainees. He said the size and skills of the civilian contingent is always decided by the secretary-general.
Araud noted that when the Security Council authorizes a new mission, it usually calls for reports every 30 days.
"This time we are going to ask for reporting every 15 days so that we can react if things are going bad," Araud said. "It's not only the political question. We are also in charge of the lives of our observers."
Russia's Churkin said he hoped approval of the expanded observer force will send "a strong and good political signal" to the Syrian government and the opposition.
"And we hope the people who have been courageous enough to go there with the advanced party will know that they're not out there in limbo — that more people will come and the (U.N.) Secretariat and the Security Council is taking this exercise very seriously," he said.
Seven of the advance observers are already on the ground, another two will arrive Monday, and the U.N. hopes to have all 30 in Syria next week, Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told The Associated Press in Geneva.
Members of the advance team are being borrowed from U.N. missions in the region so they can deploy quickly, he said. The U.N. said the observers already in Syria come from Morocco, Brazil, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia and Norway.
The preliminary agreement between Syria and the United Nations on the deployment of U.N. observers says they will have freedom to go anywhere in the country by foot or by car, take pictures, and use technical equipment to monitor compliance with the cease-fire engineered by Annan.
The observers, who report to Annan daily, will have freedom to install temporary observation posts in cities and towns, to monitor military convoys approaching population centers, to investigate any potential violation, and to access detention centers and medical centers in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian authorities, the agreement says.
The issue of using helicopters and aircraft will likely dominate discussions in the coming days, Fawzi said.
The Russian draft resolution made no mention of helicopters but the European version underlined the need for the Syrian government "to agree rapidly" with the U.N. on "the independent use of air assets" by the expanded force.
The final text underlines "the need for the Syrian government and the United Nations to agree rapidly on appropriate air transportation assets for UNSMIS."
In France, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that if Annan's peace plan "doesn't function, we have to envisage other methods."
Juppe said on France's BFM television that his country would support a U.S.-backed proposal for a U.N. arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria.
The peace plan is "the last chance before civil war," he said.
Meanwhile, diplomats meeting Friday in Geneva to discuss the humanitarian situation agreed to a draft plan that budgets $180 million to provide food, medicine and other supplies to about 1 million people inside Syria. It comes on top of the aid that is delivered to refugees who have fled abroad.
John Ging, who heads the coordination and response division of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the plan still needs Syria's approval, particularly the question of how many aid workers will be allowed into the country.