x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Syrian forces defy UN ceasefire call

Dozens more people died as Syrian government troops and rebels clashed again yesterday in defiance of UN efforts to halt the bloodshed and allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians.

Members of the Syrian Army gather inside their quarters in the Syrian town of Binnish, in the north-western province of Idlib.
Members of the Syrian Army gather inside their quarters in the Syrian town of Binnish, in the north-western province of Idlib.

Dozens more people died as Syrian government troops and rebels clashed again yesterday in defiance of UN efforts to halt the bloodshed and allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians.

Opposition activists and the regime in Damascus both dismissed a Security Council statement calling for a ceasefire to allow dialogue on a political solution.

The rebels said there could be no talks while Bashar Al Assad's forces continued to attack them. The president's government said it would not respond to threats or ultimatums.

Meanwhile Syrian army forces attacked a number of towns and rebel fighters struck army posts in several provinces yesterday. In the deadliest attack, five soldiers were killed at a military checkpoint in the Latakia region, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said a 17-year-old boy was killed and dozens wounded in an army assault on the town of Sermin in the north-western province of Idlib.

In the south, rebel fighters killed a soldier and wounded four others near the village of Saida in Deraa province, where Syria's year-old revolt against the regime erupted, it said.

Deserters killed two soldiers in the town.

The year-long uprising is becoming an armed insurgency that many fear is pushing Syria towards civil war. Because of Damascus's close alliances with Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, there are concerns that the violence could spread beyond Syria's borders, especially if other nations arm the rebels or send in their own troops.

The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said there must be a ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be dispatched. "Civil strife of the sort we are seeing in Syria can destroy whole societies," he said.

Mr Ban said yesterday that "nobody is discussing military operations" to resolve the crisis. But he said the Red Cross had proposed a few hours' halt in violence every day so humanitarian aid can be delivered.

The previously divided Security Council sent a united message to the Syrian government and opposition on Wednesday to immediately implement proposals by the special envoy Kofi Annan to end the bloodshed.

A non-binding statement approved by the 15 council members detailed Mr Annan's six proposals, which include a ceasefire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive Syrian-led political talks "to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people".

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, said the statement offered the regime "the opportunity to push ahead with its repression to crush the revolt by the Syrian people".

Samir Nashar, an executive committee member of the SNC, said: "It's time for the UN Security Council to use its powers to stop these massacres." Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the international community had to go further and develop "a joint plan of action". "We continue to think that Syria is playing for time. In order for this human tragedy to end we must act together," he said. "Just making calls is not enough."

Various factions of the Syrian opposition will meet next week in Istanbul to coordinate their requests for support before the second meeting of the Friends of Syria group on April 1. "The goal is to prepare for the conference," Halit Hoca, a member of the Syrian National Council, said yesterday.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse