The escalating bloodshed in Syria is hampering a hard-won UN observer force's ability to carry out its mission, its chief Major General Robert Mood said on Friday.
"The escalating violence is limiting our ability to observe, verify reports as well as assist in local dialogue and stability," the veteran Norwegian peacekeeper told reporters in Damascus.
"Violence, over the past 10 days, has been intensifying, again willingly by both the parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers."
A UN convoy trying to reach the town of Al-Haffe, under siege by regime troops, came under fire on Tuesday and was forced to turn back by a stone-throwing crowd of pro-regime residents of a nearby village.
The observer team was finally able to visit the town on Thursday, finding it all but deserted with a strong stench of dead bodies and most state buildings burned to the ground.
Mood said it was the Syrian people who were suffering the consequences of the increased violence. "In some locations, civilians have been trapped by ongoing operations," the general said.
"The six-point plan does not belong to Kofi Annan, it does not belong to UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria). It belongs to the Syrian parties that have accepted it and the international community that endorsed it.
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Mood expressed concern that neither side was willing to bring about a "peaceful transition".
"Instead there is a push towards advancing military positions," he said.
Asked about an assessment by UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous on Tuesday that Syria was now in civil war, Mood was non-committal.
"I am not qualified to say. It is a complicated situation in Syria," he replied. He also would not be drawn on the reported presence on the ground of Al-Qaeda militants or Iranians.
"We cannot verify the presence of these specific groups on the ground. We have not observed it."
"I am proud of the action of my observers, the courage they are demonstrating," Mood said, despite expressing frustration "because violence continues and has increased in the last 10 days."
"This is not a static mission," he stressed, adding that the observer mission's mandate would soon come under review by the Security Council.
"It is important that the parties give this mission a chance."
At least 14,400 people have been killed since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.