Sun, Jun 03, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Syrian troops and rebels clash as fears of war mount

AFP, DAMASCUS

Clashes broke out between Syrian troops and rebels outside Damascus yesterday as world powers warned of the country descending into civil war.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said he had asked the UN Security Council to take strong action in order to protect civilians in Syria.

“I sent a letter to the UN Security Council asking it to undertake all necessary measures to protect the Syrian people,” Arabi said shortly before the opening of a meeting of the ministerial committee on the Syrian crisis.

Asked if he had called for armed action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Arabi said: “I have not referred to military intervention.”

There were no immediate reports of casualties in fighting in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, nor in Douma, where explosions and heavy gunfire amid strikes and protests were reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

However, one person was killed by gunfire in the Damascus provincial town town of Kfar Batna.

A dissident was killed during raids by regime forces in the central province of Homs. Raids also took place in the southern province of Daraa, the Britain-based watchdog said.

Tensions spilled into neighboring Lebanon, as clashes between pro- and anti-Damascus gunmen killed one man and wounded five other people in the northern city of Tripoli.

On Friday, world leaders voiced fears that Syria, wracked by a nearly 15-month-long uprising against al-Assad, stood on the brink of civil war.

At the same time in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council ordered an independent probe to hunt those guilty of a massacre last week in Houla that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said could constitute a “crime against humanity.”

Forty-one of the 47-member council backed a call urging an investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, set up by the council last year to gather evidence on alleged rights abuses.

Russia and China, key allies of Assad, voted against the resolution, which they said was “unbalanced,” as it presumed the guilt of the Syrian authorities for the massacre of 108 people, mostly women and children.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Friday, warned that the situation in Syria was “extremely dangerous” and said he saw emerging signs of a civil war.

However, he struck a fiery tone in a press conference with Hollande, indicating that al-Assad’s departure would not in itself resolve the crisis.

Hollande kept up the pressure for decisive action, insisting that al-Assad leaving power was “a prerequisite for a political transition”.

After talks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Istanbul, British Foreign Secretary William Hague voiced similar concerns.

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