Syria massacre: New killings confirmed

UN observers have discovered 13 bound corpses in eastern Syria, many of them apparently shot execution-style, the monitoring mission said.

The announcement comes days after a massacre in Houla, in the central Homs province, which killed more than 100 people and prompted worldwide condemnation against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed “armed terrorists.”

he UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Photo / AP

The latest killings apparently happened in Deir el-Zour province. The corpses were found with their hands tied behind their backs, according to a statement by the UN mission. Some appeared to have been shot in the head from a short distance.

The head of the UN observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said he was “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act.”

The violence in Syria is spiraling out of control as an uprising against Assad that began in March 2011 has morphed into an armed insurgency.

In the wake of the Houla massacre, the United States and several other countries expelled Syrian diplomats to protest the killings. Survivors blamed pro-regime gunmen for at least some of the carnage in Houla.

The UN’s top human rights body planned to hold a special session Friday to address the massacre. Violence also continued elsewhere unabated. Syrian forces bombarded rebel-held areas in the same province where the Houla killings occurred, although no casualties were immediately reported, activists said.

Damascus had said it would conclude its own investigation into the Houla deaths by Wednesday but it was not clear if the findings would be made public.

Syria’s state-run media denounced the diplomatic expulsions as “unprecedented hysteria.”

The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria ordered top Syrian diplomats to leave on Tuesday.

Turkey, Syria’s neighbour and a former close ally, joined the coordinated protest. Turkey has been among the most outspoken critics of the Assad regime. It closed its embassy in Damascus in March and withdrew the ambassador. Its consulate in Aleppo remains open.

The Foreign Ministry said it ordered the Syrian charge d’affaires and other diplomats at the Syrian embassy in Ankara to leave the country within 72 hours. The consulate in Istanbul will remain open for consular duties only.

The Foreign Ministry said it also reduced the number of its personnel in the consulate in Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said new unspecified sanctions might be imposed against Syria in the coming days. The world “cannot remain silent in the face of such a situation,” he said.

Japan also ordered the Syrian ambassador in Tokyo to leave the country because of concerns about violence against civilians. Japan’s foreign minister, Koichiro Genba, said his country was not, however, breaking off diplomatic ties with Syria.

The announcements came a day after the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria ordered top Syrian diplomats to leave.

Syria’s ally, Russia, criticized the diplomatic moves.

“The banishment of Syrian ambassadors from the capitals of leading Western states seems to us to be a counterproductive step,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. He said the move closes “important channels” to influence Syria.

UN special envoy Kofi Annan met with Assad on Tuesday in Damascus to try to salvage what was left of his peace plan, which since being brokered six weeks ago has failed to stop any of the violence on the ground.

The Al-Baath daily, the mouthpiece of Assad’s Baath Party, said Syria won’t be intimidated by such “violent rhythms” and would remain standing in front of such “ugly, bloody and dramatic shows.” It added that “Syria will not tremble as they think.”

The government’s Al-Thawra newspaper also blasted the Western decision, calling it an “escalation that aims to besiege Annan’s plan and enflame a civil war.”

Tensions have escalated as more information emerges about the May 25 killings in Houla.

The UN’s human rights office said most of the 108 victims were shot execution-style at close range, with fewer than 20 people cut down by regime shelling.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said there are strong suspicions that pro-Assad fighters were responsible for some of the killings, casting doubt on allegations that “third elements” – or outside forces – were involved, although he did not rule it out.

Meanwhile, activists said Syrian troops shelled restive suburbs of Damascus and rebel-held areas in the central city of Homs on Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said at least five people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Both groups had no details about casualties in Homs, which is the provincial capital of the province that includes Houla.

UN to hold special session

The UN’s top human rights body will hold a special session on the deteriorating situation in Syria and last week’s massacre of more than 100 Syrian villagers.

The UN Human Rights Council said its special session will address the massacre in Houla, Syria, which drew international condemnation and prompted the US and at least a dozen other nations to expel Syrian diplomats.

Council spokesman Rolando Gomez said the session will be called based on a request supported by 21 of the 47 nations that are council members. The request, he said, required support from at least a third of its members and was officially submitted by Qatar, Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Denmark and the European Union.

A total of 51 nations – including France, Germany, Britain, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and 25 others that have observer status on the council – signed their support for the session.

The Geneva-based council has met 18 times previously in special sessions since its creation in 2006, including three on Syria just last year in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions. At the last of those sessions in December – the previous ones came in April and August – the council approved a resolution to criticize Syria’s crackdown on opposition protesters and appointed a special investigator to probe abuses in the country.

That December resolution won the backing of 37 council members with support from the Arab League, the United States and European countries, but Russia, China and four other members voted against, with six abstentions. The Human Rights Council’s actions are often used to lend moral weight to efforts at the UN’s most powerful body, the Security Council in New York, to demand a more binding international response.

The United States says it remains opposed to military action in Syria. The massacre has provoked strong global condemnation, but it is unlikely to trigger a military assault similar to last year’s NATO-led campaign in Libya to oust its leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

A US State Department spokesperson has said the United States will keep up pressure at the Security Council, where it holds one of five veto-wielding seats, to find ways to stop the violence by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

As permanent Security Council members, Russia and China have used their veto power to block UN resolutions against Assad. The US, France and Britain hold the other permanent seats. But Russia, which has been especially crucial to Syria in providing a buffer from international action, has grown increasingly critical of Damascus in recent months, and the Houla massacre has prompted some of the strongest condemnations yet from Moscow.

The UN human rights office said Tuesday that most of the 108 victims in the town of Houla were shot at close range, including 49 children and 34 women, and entire families were gunned down in their homes.

Last week, a UN panel of independent human rights experts said the Syrian regime and an increasingly organised rebel force are carrying out illegal killings and torturing their opponents but found that government forces are still responsible for most of the violence in the uprising.

A cease-fire declared in April has been violated daily by both sides in the conflict as more than 250 UN observers based in cities around Syria scramble to monitor a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

In Amman, Jordan, Annan held talks Wednesday with the Jordanian prime minister and foreign minister and later told reporters the world must “find a solution that will lead to a democratic transition in Syria and find a way of ending the killings as soon as possible.”

Source: Associated Press

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