Martin Chulov in Beirut
The Guardian, Monday 3 December 2012
The United Nations is preparing to evacuate all non-essential staff from Syria and put those who remain in the country on standby to move to places of safety.
Citing the “prevailing security situation”, the organisation has also cancelled all missions to Syria from abroad and suspended its activities inside the war-ravaged country.
The announcement was made by the UN’s under-secretary for safety and security, Gregory Starr, on Monday afternoon. It marks the final step before a full-scale evacuation, a move that has not been ordered at any point during Syria’s steady descent into chaos over the past 20 months.
The UN has kept an increasingly low profile in Syria since early in the summer. Most other international organisations, including the Arab League, have sharply wound back their work inside the country.
The Assad regime saw the first high-profile departure from its ranks in recent months on Monday with the apparent sacking of the foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi. He has left Damascus, reportedly for London.
Fighting continued in Damascus for a fifth day, with the international airport again receiving no flights, although unlike late last week it notionally remained open. Regime forces clashed with rebels nearby throughout the day.
Intense outgoing rocket fire could be heard from behind the Kass Youn mountain, on the city’s eastern fringe. The rockets appeared to be aimed at rebel strongholds on the rural outskirts of the capital, particularly Darraya, which has remained a staunch opposition hub despite months of security sweeps by regime troops and bombing by jets.