UN meets again on Syria blitz
Damascus – Syrian security forces pressed on with a deadly crackdown on dissent on Tuesday as the United Nations Security Council held more talks on Syria and the UN chief said President Bashar al-Assad has “lost all sense of humanity”.
Three more people were killed on Tuesday in Hama, activists said, a day after Assad’s tanks shelled the city following a bloody Sunday in which about 140 people were killed in Syria, including more than 100 in Hama.
The deaths have triggered a torrent of international condemnation, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon vented his anger and frustration at the regime as the Security Council held a second days of talks on Syria.
“Since the beginning of this situation, I have issued many statements, I have spoken to President Assad several times, and I have expressed my sincere wish and genuine wish that he should genuinely, genuinely address these issues in a peaceful manner,” Ban said.
He branded the weekend violence as “totally unacceptable”, saying Assad “must be aware that under international humanitarian law, this is accountable”.
“I believe that he lost all sense of humanity,” Ban told a small group of reporters.
The 15-member Security Council is under mounting pressure to take a stand on violence in Syria but a first round of talks behind closed doors on Monday ended with no agreement.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal hope to revive a formal resolution condemning Assad’s crackdown but Russia and China – two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power – threatened to block past attempts to pass a resolution on Syria.
Brazil, India and South Africa have also spoken out against a resolution or statement.
As fresh talks got under way on Tuesday, European nations distributed the text of a new draft resolution, but Russian and Indian envoys said it was barely different from a version they had already rejected.
“It is not new,” said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
Indian envoy Hardeen Singh Puri, president of the council for August, said “there has been no change to the text which was on the table; there has been some technical update.”
Some diplomats say it is more likely it will now try to agree on a less formal statement, with no warning of UN action.
Three people were killed on Tuesday in Hama, including two brothers, when a rocket hit their car, and the third person was killed by a sniper, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He also reported a “massive deployment of tanks on the road between Homs and Ruston” in central Syria where he said residents “are worried that the army is preparing to launch an operation”.
Homs, Syria’s third city, is due south of Hama, where an estimated 20 000 people died when the government of Assad’s father, Hafez, put down an Islamist revolt in 1982.
The international community’s stand on the Syria crisis does not include any plans for a Libya-style military intervention to halt the bloodshed, France said on Tuesday.
“The situations in Libya and Syria are not similar” and “no option of a military nature is planned”, French foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages said in Paris.
Meanwhile, a group of Syrian dissidents met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, in what the State Department said was the first time she had met opposition figures.
Radwan Ziadeh said he and the other dissidents urged US President Barack Obama to press for UN sanctions against Damascus and call on Assad to quit power.
On Monday, Clinton said the international community must “come together behind the people of Syria at this critical time”.
“We need actually the US to lead at the Security Council to get more sanctions at the UN level, also to refer the crimes against humanity committed in Syria to the international criminal court,” Ziadeh said.
Assad marked Syria’s Army Day on Monday by showering praise on his troops and saying that the military had “proved its loyalty to its people, country and creed”.
“Its efforts and sacrifices will be admired. These sacrifices succeeded in foiling the enemies of the country and ending sedition, preserving Syria,” the president said.
Syria says armed gangs are responsible for the violence and the state news agency SANA reported that “saboteurs” stormed Monday the main courthouse in Hama and set fire to offices.
SANA said the army was in Hama to clear the city of barricades set up by armed groups who it accused of sowing terror and attacking private and public property.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned the Syrian regime the “world is watching” its deadly crackdown while Italy recalled its ambassador in Damascus for consultation.
Meanwhile, the European Union added five Syrian figures to a blacklist of individuals and businesses associated with the repression, including Defence Minister Ali Habib.
And in Washington three senators pressed for tougher sanctions that would target the oil sector, saying that about one-third of Syria’s export revenues come from oil.
Italy recalled its ambassador in Damascus for consultation given the “horrible repression against the civilian population,” the foreign ministry said in Rome on Tuesday.
According to Observatory, a total of 1 992 people have been killed since protests erupted in mid-March, including 1 618 civilians and 374 members of the army and security forces.