Syria 'day of mourning' ahead of UN meet

2012-01-31 15:45
Damascus - Syria's opposition called for a "day of mourning and anger" after almost 100 people, mostly civilians, reportedly died in spiralling violence ahead of a UN Security Council showdown on Tuesday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in neighbouring Jordan for talks on Middle East peace, expressed hope Tuesday's meeting "will bear quick fruit so that the council can meet the expectations of the international community".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a Western charge to press Russia to back Security Council action to stop a crackdown on dissent the United Nations says has killed more than 5 400 people in the past 10 months.

But veto-wielding Russia has objected to a resolution introduced by Morocco, and rejected by Damascus, under which President Bashar Assad would accept a ceasefire and hand over power to his deputy ahead of the formation of a unity government.

And Moscow's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said on Tuesday that pushing it through would be the "path towards civil war" in a country where an increasingly bold insurgency is harrowing regime forces.

The opposition Syrian National Council, in a statement on Facebook, deplored the global community's lack of "swift action" to protect civilians "by all necessary means".

Loyal to the revolution

It called for a "day of mourning and anger [on Tuesday] to commemorate the victims of savage massacres", urging mosques and churches to support the cause with prayer calls and ringing bells.

The SNC, the most representative group opposed to Assad, reaffirmed the "people's determination to fight for their freedom and dignity", stressing they "will not give up their revolution, whatever the sacrifices".

"The regime is taking advantage of the cover provided to it by some regional and international parties to escalate its crackdown," it added, in a likely reference to Iran and Russia.

The head of the now defunct Arab League observer mission to Syria, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, said there had been a marked upsurge in violence since last Tuesday. Nearly 400 people have been killed since.

On Monday alone, almost 100 people, including 55 civilians, were killed during a regime assault on the city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The unrest, which also saw 25 soldiers killed, marked one of the bloodiest days of a revolt that erupted in March, inspired by a wave of Arab uprisings that last year overthrew authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Houses set on fire

On Tuesday, security forces shot dead four civilians in the northwestern Idlib province, near Turkey, said the Observatory.

And anti-Assad demonstrations were held in the southern province of Daraa, as thousands of people attended the funeral of a protester killed by regime troops, said activists.

Separately, regime forces began blowing up houses in the protest hub of Rankus, 40km north of Damascus, said an activist who urged the international community to help civilians besieged in the town for a week.

"This morning they started to blow up houses in Rankus. They are using diesel to set fire to buildings," said Abu Omar, an activist spokesperson for the town of 25 000 people.

"The main road to Rankus is completely cut off, as well as communications, water and electricity, and there is no milk for babies. Help them. Send them food. They are dying."

Amid the escalating violence, which prompted the Arab League to suspend its observer mission, Clinton, the head of the League and the British and French foreign ministers headed to New York to push for a UN resolution.

Threat to peace

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the escalation of the Syrian regime's violent and brutal attacks on its own people," Clinton said in a statement.

"The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security. The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin."

Syria's foreign ministry fired back, saying "the aggressive American and Western statements against Syria are escalating in a scandalous manner", and again blaming the recent violence on "armed terrorist groups".

Russia and China - which have accused Western nations of misusing a UN mandate in their intervention to bring down Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi - vetoed a Western-backed draft resolution on Syria in October.

On Monday, Gatilov said Moscow would not back it the latest draft.

And on Twitter, the Russian deputy foreign minister said on Tuesday the Western draft "will not help in the search for a compromise.

Intense discussions

"Pushing it through is the path towards civil war."

Russia has instead called for Assad's regime and the opposition to hold "informal contacts" in Moscow without any preconditions.

Asked about Russia's call for talks, the White House said it supported a political solution but was "intensely discussing" with Russia the "real deterioration on the ground" in Syria.

"The regime has lost control of the country and will eventually fall," spokesperson Jay Carney said.

A French diplomat said "the balance within the Security Council has evolved", and UN officials said small changes were made to the draft resolution after talks on Monday.

Read more on:    un  |  bashar assad  |  hillary clinton  |  syria  |  syria conflict  |  uprisings

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