Syria: Blast as Ban warns of pivotal moment

2012-05-22 22:27
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Grenade blast near UN troops in Syria

A rocket-propelled grenade has exploded near a team of UN observers in a Damascus suburb in the latest of attacks in Syria.

Damascus - Syrian security forces carried out a spate of raids in Damascus on Tuesday after a deadly bombing hit the capital and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon warned the search for peace was at a "pivotal moment".

State television said the late Monday blast hit a restaurant in the Qaboon neighbourhood of the capital. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed.

In all, at least 59 people were killed nationwide on Monday, including 31 loyalist troops who died in clashes with rebel fighters, the Observatory said.

The bloodshed raged despite the deployment of a UN military observer mission to oversee a promised ceasefire that has been breached daily since it went into force on 12 April.

Gunfire erupted as a team of UN observers visited the town of Busayra in Deir Ezzor province in the northeast, activists reached by Skype said.

"Unconfirmed reports indicate there are two dead and several wounded," one activist said.

Fierce clashes

The Observatory said dozens of people were arrested in the pre-dawn raids in several suburbs of the capital, including Douma, Harasta and Barzen.

It said powerful blasts were heard overnight in a number of provincial cities, including central Hama, northern Aleppo and the coastal cities of Banias and Latakia.

The watchdog said there were also fierce clashes between regime forces and rebels in the town of Kfar Roma in Idlib province in the northwest.

Demonstrations broke out at dawn in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo, the country's second city and commercial hub which until recently had been largely spared the unrest shaking the country since March last year.

One person was killed by gunfire in Nouaymeh, a town in the southern province of Daraa, the Observatory said.

The UN chief issued a new warning of the dangers of all-out civil war as the 14-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime has turned into an armed rebellion.

No Nato involvement

"The secretary general said we were at a pivotal moment in the search for a peaceful settlement to the crisis and that he remained extremely troubled about the risk of an all-out civil war," a spokesperson for Ban said at a Nato summit in Chicago on Monday.

Nato, which undertook a major air war in Libya to back rebels who fought Muammar Gaddafi's forces last year, has said it has "no intention" of taking military action against Assad's regime.

Nato states have come under criticism for backing the air war in Libya but ruling out military intervention in Syria, where opposition demonstrators and badly outgunned rebels have been hammered by heavily-armed regime forces.

In neighbouring Lebanon, protesters blocked roads in the northern Akkar region for a third day on Tuesday, a security official said, amid mounting tension over the conflict in Syria.

The road closures were linked to the weekend killings of two clerics at an army checkpoint in Akkar, a mainly Sunni region whose inhabitants are hostile to Assad's regime.

The killings ignited street battles in the capital Beirut that left two people dead and 18 wounded.

21 being questioned

Human rights group Amnesty International called on the Lebanese authorities to launch an independent investigation into the deaths of the two clerics.

"It's vital the probe into these killings is carried out by an independent body," said Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ann Harrison.

A Lebanese judicial official said 21 soldiers, including three officers, were being questioned by military police in relation to the clerics' deaths.

A military judge meanwhile ordered the release on bail of an Islamist whose arrest had been another source of friction between pro- and anti-Syrian groups, a judicial official said.

Shadi al-Mawlawi's 12 May arrest on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation sparked sectarian clashes in the northern port city of Tripoli that left 10 people dead.

His supporters say he was targeted because he was helping Syrian refugees fleeing the unrest in their country.

The unrest in Lebanon has highlighted deep divisions in the country over Syria.

The opposition led by former premier Saad Hariri backs the revolt against Assad, while the ruling coalition, in which the powerful Shi'ite movement Hezbollah plays a key role, supports the Damascus regime.

Read more on:    bashar al-assad  |  muammar gaddafi  |  ban ki-moon  |  syria  |  syria conflict  |  uprisings

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