Dozens killed in new Syria massacre

2012-06-07 10:00
People hold up a banner depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad chopping up a body and which reads in Arabic, "Thank you" during an anti-regime demonstration in the town of Kfar Nubul. (AFP)

People hold up a banner depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad chopping up a body and which reads in Arabic, "Thank you" during an anti-regime demonstration in the town of Kfar Nubul. (AFP)

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Damascus - Pro-regime militiamen armed with guns and knives swept through a village in central Syria slaughtering dozens including women and children, a watchdog said on Thursday in allegations denied by Damascus.

Reports of the massacre in the village of Al-Kubeir came as the United States demanded a full transfer of power in Syria, setting the stage for a renewed diplomatic stand-off after Russia and China said they were strongly against intervention and regime change.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number of villagers killed in Wednesday's assault at 87 after the exiled opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) had given an initial estimate of 100 dead.

Both groups said shabiha militiamen loyal to President Bashar Assad's regime had carried out the mass killings in Al-Kubeir, in the central province of Hama.

If the reports prove accurate, the massacre will rank among the worst atrocities in the 15-month uprising against Assad's regime.

The Syrian government on Thursday denied responsibility, saying in a televised statement: "What a few media have reported on what happened in Al-Kubeir, in the Hama region, is completely false."

"A terrorist group committed a heinous crime in the Hama region which claimed nine victims. The reports by the media are contributing to spilling the blood of Syrians," the statement said.

The Britain-based Observatory said in a statement that the shabiha had carried out the "new massacre" after shelling by regular troops.

Real change

"What is certain is that dozens of people died, including women and children," the watchdog's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. His group later gave a toll of 87 dead, while the SNC revised it toll downwards to around 80.

SNC spokesperson Mohammed Sermini joined Abdel Rahman in urging UN observers deployed to monitor a mostly-ignored truce to head immediately to the region to investigate.

The reports come after at least 108 people were killed in a two-day massacre that began on 25 May near the central town of Houla, most of them women and children who were summarily executed, according to the United Nations.

News of the latest incident came after Russia and China said they were "decisively against" intervention or regime change in Syria, as Arab and Western calls mounted for strong international action in the conflict.

The United States endorsed an Arab proposal to invoke the UN Charter's tough Chapter VII, while refraining from supporting its powers to initiate military intervention.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has voiced mounting frustration with the Chinese and Russian positions, sought to mobilise support in Turkey, calling on the international community to "close off the regime's economic life lines".

"We can't break faith with the Syrian people who want real change," said a State Department official who briefed reporters on Clinton's meeting in Istanbul with officials from 16 regional and European powers.

Clinton set forth "essential elements and principles that we believe should guide that post Assad transition strategy, including Assad's full transfer of power," the official said.

Free and fair elections

Other elements include "the establishment of a fully representative and inclusive interim government which leads to free and fair elections, a ceasefire to be observed by all and equality for all Syrians under the law", the official said.

But Clinton's Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov warned regime change in Syria would lead the Middle East to "catastrophe".

Beijing and Moscow said after two days of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders that they strongly opposed intervention and regime change.

And in Beijing on Thursday, leaders of a grouping led by Russia and China issued a statement opposing military intervention in the Middle East.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) also called for a "peaceful resolution of the Syrian problem through political dialogue" in a statement released at the end of a two-day summit in Beijing.

"Member states are against military intervention into this region's affairs, forcing a 'handover of power' or using unilateral sanctions," it said, referring to the Middle East and North Africa.

Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions against Assad's regime, but backed UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan's blueprint to end the conflict in which more than 13 500 people have died since March 2011, according to the Observatory.

The Annan plan was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from 12 April but doubts have emerged about its effectiveness as violence has raged on despite the deployment of about 300 UN observers.

Read more on:    kofi annan  |  bashar assad  |  hillary clinton  |  vladimir putin  |  china  |  syria  |  russia  |  us  |  syria conflict  |  uprisings

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