The United Nations' observer mission in Syria has officially ended without any sign of a breakthrough on bringing an end to the country's conflict.
The mandate of the so-called UN Supervision Mission in Syria expired at midnight on August 19.
Created by the UN Security Council in April, the mission was intended to monitor a cease-fire and the implementation of a six-point peace plan proposed by former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
But the work of the mission's 300 monitors was suspended in June and the number of monitors scaled back as violence between armed rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad intensified.
Neither side fulfilled the terms of the cease-fire that was called for under Annan's six-point peace plan.
The UN said it plans to keep open a political "liaison office" in Damascus to assist with possible mediation efforts of Annan's successor as international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat who previously has served as a UN envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq, told the France 24 television channel that he is not confident about being able to restore peace.
"There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria. But I believe that there has already been a civil war there for some time now," he said. "What is necessary is to stop the civil war, and that is not going to be easy."
On August 20, Damascus lashed out at Brahimi's description of the conflict as a "civil war."
Syria's Foreign Ministry said that "to speak of civil war in Syria contradicts reality" and that such descriptions are "found only in the head of conspirators."
It also said: "If the international envoy wants his mission to succeed and for the Syrian government to cooperate, he should stick to the framework approved by Syria."
Damascus insists it is fighting an insurgency by "armed terrorist groups" that are backed by the West, Gulf states and Turkey
Meanwhile, also on August 18, Brahimi met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.
Hollande said after those talks that there can be no political solution to Syria's crisis without Assad's departure from power.
France currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council.
Reports from Syria say deadly fighting continued on August 20 in several parts of the country -- including the northern city of Aleppo, the city of Daraa where the uprising began in March 2011, and in several southern neighborhoods of the capital, Damascus.
The unrelenting violence has raised fears of a spillover into neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled during the past 17 months.
In Turkey, where some 70,000 refugees already have fled, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the United Nations may need to create a "safe zone" on Syrian territory to accommodate the growing number of civilians displaced by the fighting.
Turkey's "Hurriyet" newspaper quoted Davutoglu as urging the UN to set up camps for displaced civilians "within the borders of Syria" in order to reduce the flow of refugees into Turkey.
Davutoglu said Turkey cannot shelter more than 100,000 Syrian refugees.
Turkish authorities on August 18 began distributing food and other humanitarian aid to displaced Syrian civilians who remain on Syrian soil near the border with Turkey.
U.S. Warning On Chemical Weapons
U.S. President Barack Obama warned Assad on August 20 that the use or movement of chemical weapons by that regime would change the U.S. perspective on how to respond to Syria's conflict.
Obama said he has not ordered U.S. military intervention in Syria "at this point," but he said the United States is "monitoring the situation very carefully" and that his administration has "put together a range of contingency plans."
Obama said there would be "enormous consequences" if Assad's regime starts moving or using chemical weapons. He said such a development would be "a 'red line' for the United States."
Assad's regime is reported to have access to weapons containing nerve gas or germ-warfare agents.
With reporting by AFP, "Hurriyet," and Reuters