Last updated: 9 September, 2011

Activists call for UN observers in Syria

Democracy activists called for the United Nations to send international observers to Syria after security forces stormed a northwestern village and killed three military defectors.

“The Syrian people calls on the United Nations to adopt a resolution to set up a permanent observer mission in Syria,” activists said on their Facebook page, “Syrian Revolution.”

“We demand access to the international media, we demand the protection of civilians,” they said, calling for fresh demonstrations on Friday, the Muslim day of rest and prayers.

In the latest military operation, “a force comprising seven armoured vehicles and 10 jeeps stormed the village of Ibleen in Jabal Al-Zawiyah (region) in search of people wanted by the security services,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Heavy gunfire was heard as the forces stormed the village,” the Observatory said in a statement received by AFP in Cyprus.

The head of the Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, later told AFP the three killings occurred during a raid on the house in Ibleen of a brother of one of the defectors, Hussein Harmouche.

Two other deserters were arrested, Abdel Rahman said, reached by telephone from Nicosia.

Harmouche, an officer, announced his defection in a June video widely distributed on the Internet and broadcast on Arab satellite channels, giving as the reason his refusal “to fire on unarmed civilians.”

The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since democracy protests flared in Syria in mid-March.

The assault on Ibleen comes a day after regime forces, according to an updated toll by rights activists, killed another 31 people, 29 of them in a tank-backed raid on the flashpoint central city of Homs.

Human Rights Watch said security forces had forcibly removed 18 wounded people from Homs’s Al-Barr hospital during the raid on the city, citing the testimony of witnesses, including doctors.

“Snatching wounded people from the operating room is inhumane and illegal, not to mention life-threatening,” the New York-based watchdog’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said.

The crackdown on protesters has been widely condemned by world powers, some of which have imposed sanctions on the Damascus regime.

“The Syrian regime has committed crimes against humanity,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said during talks Wednesday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

He hoped Russia would change its stance and back UN condemnation of the crackdown, he added.

But on Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave no sign of any U-turn, telling France-based news channel Euronews that some of those protesting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were “terrorists.”

Medvedev admitted the Syrian authorities had been guilty of using “disproportionate force” against protesters, but called the country a “friend” of Russia.

“It’s true that we recognise that there are problems in Syria. We’re aware of the disproportionate use of force, and of a large number of victims, and it’s something we disapprove of,” he said.

“I have addressed myself several times to President Assad on this, but I think that if we decided to address a severe message to Syria, we should do the same thing to the opposition.

“Those who are chanting anti-government slogans are very diverse people. Some are clearly extremists, some could even be described as terrorists,” he said, distancing Moscow from the West’s support for what it sees as a pro-democratic revolt.

“We are ready to back different approaches, but they should not be based on a unilateral condemnation of the actions of the government and President Assad.”

Russia has staunchly opposed attempts by Western governments to push through a UN Security Council resolution targeting President Bashar al-Assad and has circulated an alternative draft calling for him to implement reforms.

The Syrian regime, which has promised to launch a wide range of reforms to appease protesters, blames the unrest on foreign-backed “armed terrorist gangs.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his criticism of the Syrian regime in comments to Al Jazeera television Thursday. Those who held on to power using bloodshed would end up losing power the same way, he said.

“Shadows loom over the legitimacy of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime,” he told the station.