x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Syria opposition press UN and Arab League after 'massacre'

Syrian National Council urge the UN Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency meetings after regime forces kill more than 200 people in two days.

Anti-government protesters carry coffins of two protesters killed in earlier clashes in Damascus.
Anti-government protesters carry coffins of two protesters killed in earlier clashes in Damascus.

DAMASCUS // The opposition Syrian National Council urged the UN Security Council and Arab League yesterday to hold emergency meetings after regime forces “massacred” more than 200 people in two days.

Syria, which held war games on Tuesday to test preparedness against any invasion, accused the opposition of pushing for foreign intervention and trying to sabotage an Arab-brokered deal for observers, but ignoring calls for talks.

Reacting to reports of hundreds of civilians being killed this week, the SNC called for an “emergency UN Security Council session to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawiyah mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular.”

It also appealed for an “emergency meeting for the Arab League to condemn the bloody massacres... and cooperate with the United Nations in taking the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians.”

The SNC, a major umbrella group of factions opposed to President Bashar Al Assad, reported “250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period.”

It urged the Security Council to declare the cities and towns under attack “’safe zones’ that enjoy international protection; and force the regime’s forces to withdraw from said areas.”

France denounced what it said was the “unprecedented massacre,” and urged Russia to accelerate talks for a UN Security Council resolution on the crisis.

Russia has proposed a Security Council resolution that would denounce violence from both sides.

France has called this “unacceptable,” seeking instead a resolution that would directly pin the blame for the violence on the regime and threaten strong international sanctions on Damascus.

The United States warned of new international measures to pressure Syria to halt its bloody crackdown, and said Mr Al Assad did “not deserve to rule.” The White House said that if Damascus did not fully implement an Arab League plan to contain the violence, “the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown.”

The SNC’s strongly worded statement came after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Mr Assad’s forces carried out a “massacre” by killing 111 civilians in the northwestern town of Kafruwed on Tuesday.

The revised toll brings to 123 the number of civilian deaths across Syria for Tuesday, most in Idlib province and 12 in the flashpoint central city of Homs.

In addition, at least 100 army deserters were killed or wounded in Idlib on Tuesday, the Observatory said, adding 14 that security force members were killed in southern Daraa province, cradle of the nine-month uprising.

More than 100 deserters and civilians were also reported to have been killed on Monday.

The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown in Syria since mid-March.

Amid the violence, Assad’s ally Iran announced that five engineers working at a power plant project in Homs were abducted on Tuesday.

It demanded their “immediate release” and called on the Syrian government to take serious and urgent steps to identify the kidnappers and free the hostages.

Asked about the incident, the Syrian foreign ministry would say only that “an investigation is under way.”

Syrian opposition figures have accused Tehran of aiding Mr Assad’s regime in its deadly crackdown.

The latest violence comes as an advance Arab League team prepares to head to Damascus on Thursday to pave the way for some 500 observers.

“Since Syria signed the protocol, it has been fully committed to facilitating the mission of the Arab League which will come to see the reality of the crisis,” said foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi.

“Unfortunately, the Syrian opposition is trying to sabotage the protocol and is seeking to push for foreign intervention rather than accept the call to dialogue,” he added.

The observer mission is part of an Arab peace plan endorsed by Syria on November 2, which also calls for withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence and the release of detainees.

Syria has failed to convince either the opposition or Western governments pushing for tough UN action that it is willing to follow up its words with deeds.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “a signature on a piece of paper from a regime like this, that has broken promise after promise after promise, means relatively little to us.”

Syria blames the unrest on “armed terrorist groups” -- not peaceful protesters as maintained by Western powers and rights groups.

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said he expected the observers to vindicate Damascus’ claims.

Meanwhile, state news agency Sana said on Tuesday the Syrian navy and air force conducted live-fire manoeuvres to test their preparedness to repulse “any aggression against the homeland.

“The air force and air defences conducted manoeuvres with live ammunition... with a view to testing the combat capabilities of the air forces and to test their readiness to respond to any aggression,” it said.

The agency said naval forces staged similar exercises.

After manoeuvres in early December, one analyst said they were aimed to deter “any (Western) impulse to intervene militarily in Syria by showing that it is prepared to declare a regional war.”

*Agence France-Presse with additional reports from Reuters