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UN council OKs civilian office in Syria after observers go

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council will let the UN military observer mission’s mandate in Syria expire Sunday and will back a new civilian office there to support UN and Arab League efforts to end the country’s 18-month conflict.

France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud, the current Security Council president, said Thursday that members agreed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal for a liaison office.

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Araud said the council agreed that conditions set for possibly extending the mission of the unarmed observers past Sunday were not met. He says there was no halt to the Syrian government’s use of heavy weapons and no significant reduction in violence.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said an action group will meet Friday to call for an end to the violence.

‘‘More than 18,000 people have been killed during the last 18 months,’’ Ban told reporters in East Timor on Wednesday. ‘‘The Syrian people have suffered too much too long.’’

The Security Council initially authorized the 300-strong observer mission to deploy to Syria for 90 days to monitor implementation of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The plan was to start with a cease-fire and withdrawal of the government’s heavy weapons and culminate with Syrian-led political talks.

Assad’s government and opposition forces agreed to the plan, but it was never implemented.

Because of the worsening bloodshed and insecurity, the observers have been mainly confined to their hotels since June 15, and their numbers have been cut by about two-thirds. The UN said Wednesday that 110 observers remain in Syria, mainly in Damascus. A bomb exploded Wednesday outside their hotel, wounding three people, but no observers were hurt.

Frustrated at the escalating conflict and the failure of world powers on the Security Council to unite to stop the chaos, Annan announced last month that he was resigning effective Aug. 31.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed Security Council resolutions that would have stepped up pressure especially against the Syrian government by threatening sanctions if the fighting didn’t stop.

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