Assad accused of using more cluster bombs
BEIRUT // The Syrian regime was accused yesterday of expanding its use of cluster bombs.
The charge by an international human rights group came as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year.
In new violence, rebels fighting to depose Bashar Al Assad detonated a powerful car bomb in a city in the east of the country, setting off clashes with regime troops.
In the past six months, Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country, causing mounting civilian casualties, yesterday's human-rights report claimed.
Two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, it said.
Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long afterwards since many don't explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.
The report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against Mr Al Assad. The rebellion began with largely peaceful protests but in response to a harsh regime crackdown turned into an insurgency and, by last summer, into a full-scale civil war.
The fighting has killed about 70,000 people and displaced four million of Syria's 22 million people.
The conflict remains deadlocked, despite some recent military gains by the rebels who control large stretches of northern and eastern Syria.
Rebels set off a car bomb yesterday close to an office building in the eastern city of Deir Al Zour.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the car was rigged with more than two tonnes of explosives and rebels entered the building after the blast but were pushed out of the building by government forces.
The explosion triggered clashes between rebels and regime troops, said the Observatory, an activist group. Regime forces also shelled several areas of the city, the Observatory said.
Mr Al Assad has been digging in, particularly in the densely populated western part of the country. He has armed and mobilised loyalists, and repelled rebel attacks on Damascus.
The rebels have appealed to the West for military aid, including anti-aircraft weapons, to break the stalemate.
A European Union summit on Friday heard an appeal by Britain and France to lift the EU ban on arming the rebels.
The 27 national leaders were unable to reach a consensus and asked their foreign ministers, who will meet late next week in Dublin, to try to hash out a common position.
Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, said he hoped France and Britain would defy the EU if the embargo remains in place.
"I prefer that there is a consensus and a joint resolution," he said. "But if there's no consensus, I still think France and Britain will act unilaterally."
The French foreign minister suggested last week that his country might arm the rebels even if the EU disagrees.
Updated: March 17, 2013 04:00 AM