Fri, May 18, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Syria accused of new ‘massacre,’ UN team evacuated

AFP, Damascus

Syrian forces were accused on Wednesday of summarily executing 15 civilians, as members of a UN team of observers were evacuated from a shelled town the day after a bomb blast hit their convoy.

However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused the West of ignoring violence by “terrorists” and said he would demand an explanation from UN envoy Kofi Annan when he visits Damascus later this month.

“After regime forces raided the neighborhood of Shammas [in the central city of Homs], 15 civilians were found summarily executed,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, in what he called a massacre.

The overnight killings came a day after the Observatory accused troops of another massacre in the town of Khan Sheikhun, in the northwestern province of Idlib, when they opened fire on a funeral procession and reportedly killed 20 people.

During Tuesday’s funeral, a convoy of UN observers was struck by a homemade bomb, damaging three vehicles, but causing no casualties.

Because of blast damage to their car, six members of the team were forced to spend the night in Khan Sheikhun, which came under heavy regime shelling, an activist said.

Annan’s office said the UN mission had picked up the six military observers and they were now back at their team site in the central city of Hama.

It was the second roadside bombing involving the military observers’ vehicles in less than a week, after six Syrian soldiers escorting a convoy were wounded in a May 9 bombing in Daraa.

The UN, which accuses both sides of violating an April 12 ceasefire, reaffirmed its condemnation of any violence against the monitors.

Meanwhile Syrian representatives stayed away from a UN Committee Against Torture meeting in Geneva that raised allegations of systematic and brutal abuses in the violence-wracked nation.

Committee chairman Claudio Grossman had written to Syrian authorities to question them about reports of torture in the country where a bloody crackdown on protesters was unleashed in March last year.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged the international community to increase pressure on the embattled regime of al-Assad, whom he said was “doomed.”

Al-Assad’s departure would be a “major blow” to Iran as well as Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, he told CNN.

However, al-Assad, in an interview with Russian state news channel Rossia-24, accused the West of ignoring the real situation in his country.

He said that since the arrival of the UN observers there had been an increase in “terrorist attacks” despite a reduction in “direct confrontation” between government forces and their foes.

“The West only talks about violence, violence on the government side. There is not a word about the terrorists. We are still waiting,” he said. “I will ask him [Annan] what this is about” when he next visits Syria.

Al-Assad denounced the armed opposition as a gang of “criminals” who he said contained religious extremists, including members of al-Qaeda. He also said many “foreign mercenaries” from Arab states fighting for the rebels had been killed.

Turning to legislative elections held on May 7, al-Assad said they showed that the Syrian people “are until now supporting the policy of reform” and “support the institutions of the state.”

However, voter turnout was only 51.26 percent and, so far, only limited results have been released.

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