Last updated: 26 September, 2011

Four Syrian army deserters shot dead

Security forces shot dead four soldiers trying to desert on Monday, as China voiced concern over events in Syria and Damascus accused the West of trying to unleash “total chaos” in the country.

“Four soldiers in Maar Shamsa in (northwestern) Idlib were shot dead while trying to flee the Wadi Deif military camp,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, also reporting gunfire, arrests and murders.

In New York, China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi highlighted Beijing’s concern over Syria in a speech at the UN General Assembly.

In a call to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and opposition demonstrators, Yang said “we hope that parties in Syria will exercise restraint, avoid any form of violence or more bloodshed and conflict, and act quickly to ease tension.”

The international community should “handle the Syrian issue in a prudent way so as to prevent further turbulence in Syria and its repercussions on regional peace,” Yang said.

China has joined Russia in leading opposition to UN sanctions against the Assad government in Syria, where the United Nations says that more than 2,700 people have been killed since March.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China to back strong UN action on Syria when she met Yang just before his speech, a senior US official said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused the West of trying to unleash “total chaos” in Syria that will lead its break-up, telling the UN General Assembly the protests have become a “pretext for foreign interventions.”

Muallem said foreign governments sought to undermine co-existence between Syria’s different religious groups.

“How can we otherwise explain media provocations, financing and arming religious extremism?” he said.

“What purpose could this serve other than total chaos that would dismember Syria — and consequently adversely affect its neighbours?”

A global human rights group urged a UN probe into the killing of Syrian civilians and slammed “timidity” in tackling the crisis amid evidence of crimes against humanity.

“We are demanding an international investigation to document exactly what is happening and really identify the problems — an independent investigation by the United Nations because this can’t continue,” Khadija Cherif, secretary general of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, told AFP in Warsaw.

“We must do this, or we’ll continue to see this kind of timidity in the reaction to what is happening in Syria,” Cherif said, but warning there was “certainly no need for an armed intervention” similar to the NATO-led air strikes in Libya.

The Britain-based Observatory reported soaring tensions in central Homs province, a hub of protests against the Assad regime.

“Tension is high in Homs province. The army has deployed in the villages of the Qusseir region (south of Homs), where two unidentified bodies were found in the Assi river.”

“There are also mutilated bodies at the National Hospital” in Qusseir, where 12 people were killed and 15 were reported missing in military operations on Saturday, it said.

North of Homs, “many security checkpoints have been set up on the roads leading to Rastan, where heavy machine-gun fire was heard this morning.”

The deputy dean of the faculty of architecture at Al-Baath University in Homs, Mohammed Ali Aqil, was killed on Monday by unknown assailants, the Observatory reported.

In northwestern Idlib province near the Turkish border, security forces stormed villages east of the city of Saraqeb, setting up roadblocks and arresting 17 people.

The Observatory also said that in the rebel city of Hama, “a civilian died and three others were wounded by gunfire on Sunday night on the Mhardeh-Hilfaya road.”

The bodies of four civilians who went missing on September 16 at Hilfaya in Hama province were also returned to their families.

In the southern city of Dael in Daraa province, where the first protests ignited in mid-March, intense gunfire was heard overnight after the city council building was set on fire, which residents blamed on pro-regime militias.

Meanwhile, the state-run SANA news agency reported the seizure of “arms and ammunition” in a house in the Daraa village of Nassib near the Jordanian border, and the discovery of a carload of “Israeli arms and explosives charges in Homs.”

SANA also reported the funeral of four soldiers and security officers, as well as that of a doctor who had been killed in Homs.

Damascus does not accept the existence of popular opposition to the authorities, instead blaming “armed gangs” and “terrorists” for trying to sow chaos.