BEIRUT - The head of the UN observers in Syria said a spike in bloodshed is derailing the mission to monitor and defuse more than a year of violence, raising questions on Friday about how effective the unarmed force can be in a conflict that every day looks more like a civil war.
The troubles facing the observer mission are the latest sign that an international peace plan for Syria is disintegrating. Western powers have pinned their hopes on the plan, brokered two months ago by special envoy Kofi Annan, in part because there are no other options on the table. There is little support for military intervention, and several rounds of sanctions have failed to stop the bloodshed.
“Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers,’’ Major General Robert Mood told reporters in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Mood also said there was a concern among the states providing observers that the risk is approaching an unacceptable level, suggesting the violence could prompt the nearly 300 observers to pull out of the country. He did not provide further details.
Mood’s comments were the clearest sign that Annan’s peace plan is falling apart. The regime and the opposition have ignored a cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect April 12.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called on the observers to “either work on stopping the killings or leave.’’ The group said the observers’ role has become to “witness the killing in Syria’’ rather than implement Annan’s six-point plan.
It was the harshest criticism of the observers by an activist group since they started their work in April.
Some analysts say that even if the number of observers increased tenfold, it still would be very difficult for them to report and investigate acts of violence throughout the country.
“Even 3,000 observers will not be enough,’’ said Hisham Jaber, a former Lebanese Army general who heads the Beirut-based Middle East Center for Studies and Public Relations.
Still, the presence of the observers is considered critical to understanding the conflict in a country where the government prevents reporters from operating independently.
Mood said all the observers are frustrated because the violence has not only persisted but increased over the past few days.
“We would like to see last week, yesterday, not tomorrow, next week a different situation where those who have their fingers on the triggers, whomever they are, make the decision to take their fingers off the triggers and give the Syrian people a chance to move forward,’’ he said.
On Friday, the Syrian regime kept up a ferocious offensive on rebel areas around the country in one of the most serious escalations in violence since Annan brokered the nominal truce.
An activist in the northern city of Aleppo said troops backed by helicopters and tanks were engaged in “raging battles’’ several miles away in the rebel-held town of Anadan and in other towns in the district.
Elsewhere, activists said Syrian troops heavily shelled the central city of Homs, which has come under attack for days.
The violence did not stop thousands of Syrians from taking part in demonstrations against President Bashar Assad on Friday, marching from mosques, gathering in town squares, chanting, singing, and dancing against the regime.
“Even if I die, I will still be a rebel,’’ sang the leader of a demonstration in the northern city of Idlib, according to amateur video. “Oh Bashar, you will flee.’’
Nationwide, at least 28 people were reported killed when security forces opened fire on protests, according to activists. That toll could not be independently verified.
Eight protesters were killed in the southern town of Busra al-Sham after Syrian forces fired a shell near the Khaled Bin Walid mosque, according to activists and amateur videos that appeared to show bloodied men sprawled lifeless on a street. The video could not be independently verified. The state-run news agency, SANA, blamed the attack on terrorists who planted bombs near the mosque.
Syrian troops have been sweeping through villages and towns in northern, central, southern, and seaside provinces this week to reclaim territory.
On Wednesday, the military overran the town of Haffa in the coastal Latakia Province, pushing out hundreds of rebels after intense battles that lasted eight days.
UN observers entered the nearly deserted town Thursday and found smoldering buildings, looted shops, smashed cars, and a strong stench of death, according to a UN spokeswoman.