x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Syria deaths top 3,000; GCC calls emergency meeting

Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League will meet in Cairo today to discuss the violence in Syria, as the death toll there tops 3,000.

DAMASCUS // The GCC called an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers tomorrow to discuss the violence in Syria as the death toll from protests crossed 3,000 yesterday.

An Arab League official said the GCC called for the meeting "to explore developments in Syria".

Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League will meet in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria. Several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, have pulled their ambassadors out of Syria in protest against the government's crackdown on the protest movement.

The GCC said late on Thursday that the meeting would address "the situation in Syria, which has deteriorated sharply, particularly in its humanitarian dimensions, and steps that could help end the bloodshed and halt the machine of violence".

There was more violence in Syria yesterday. Security forces killed at least 12 people as they fired on rallies supporting army defectors.

"Twelve people were killed today" and dozens wounded, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Security forces killed seven people in Dael, a woman and a boy in Deraa, both in southern Syria, two in and around Damascus and another on the outskirts of Aleppo.

"There were massive demonstrations in several Syrian cities despite a significant deployment of security forces," Mr Abdel Rahman said, including a rally in Deir Ezzor, "the largest since military operations ended there in August".

Syrians also staged demonstrations in the province of Idlib, where thousands of people rallied in Maaret Horma, the central region of Homs, the city of Latakia and in Damascus, he said.

"Security forces opened fire in Homs and in Deir Ezzor. In Banias, they entered the Abu Bakr Saddiq mosque, where demonstrators had taken shelter, arresting five among them," he said.

Pro-democracy activists called for nationwide demonstrations yesterday in support of "free soldiers" - a reference to defectors - after 36 people, including 25 soldiers, were killed in clashes across Syria on Thursday.

The Observatory has reported mounting armed resistance to security forces. Clashes in Banash and Deraa on Thursday pitted troops against deserters, who apparently mutinied rather than obey orders to shoot civilian protesters.

Yesterday, it reported "violent clashes and heavy gunfire between the Syrian army and armed men, believed to be defectors", in Saqba.

Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network spurring anti-regime protests, said gunfire was heard in the cities of Hama, Homs and Aleppo.

And official news agency Sana said an "explosive devise went off on the road connecting the Abu-Bakr and Omari mosque in Deraa causing several civilian casualties".

Western governments have issued increasingly shrill warnings that unless the Assad regime heeds popular demands for reform, the so far peaceful protest movement risks resorting to violence.

"More than 100 people have been reported killed in the past 10 days alone," UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said, raising the overall death toll since mid-March to more than 3,000.

At least 187 children were among civilians killed in the relentless clampdown on the protests movement, she said.

The heavy death toll came from "sniping from rooftops and indiscriminate use of force against peaceful protesters," said Ms Pillay.

"The onus is on all members of the international community to take protective action in a collective and decisive manner, before the continual ruthless repression and killings drive the country into a full-blown civil war," she said.

China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution UN Security Council resolution proposed by European governments that warned of "targeted measures," but not sanctions, against the regime.


* With reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press