Last updated: 24 May, 2012

UN panel blames Syria army for most abuses

A deeply divided opposition has failed the Syrian people, its outgoing leader charged on Thursday, as a new parliament again dominated by the ruling Baath party held its first session in Damascus.

While a watchdog reported the day’s death toll had reached 28, a UN panel said government forces were to blame for most abuses in the violence that has raged on daily despite a UN-backed ceasefire supposed to take effect April 12.

President Bashar al-Assad insisted his government was capable of finding a way out of the crisis gripping his country, even as parliament overwhelmingly voted for a member of his Baath party as speaker following a May 7 election boycotted by the opposition and dismissed by the West as a farce.

Speaking to AFP after the main opposition Syrian National Council accepted his resignation as leader, Burhan Ghalioun said the chasm in its ranks between Islamist and secularists had let down the Syrian people and played into Assad’s hands.

“We were not up to the sacrifices of the Syrian people. We did not answer the needs of the revolution enough and quickly enough,” Ghalioun told AFP.

“I submitted my resignation precisely to say that this path of division between Islamist and secular doesn’t work and I think the Syrian regime has won in that respect because since the beginning it has tried to play on this division,” the Paris-based academic said.

Ghalioun’s comments came as a Britain-based watchdog reported that government forces had pounded the rebel stronghold of Rastan, in central Syria, for an 11th straight day, killing at least three civilians.

Violence elsewhere killed 25 people, including four summarily executed in Basamis, in Idlib province in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, condemning it as a “contravention of international treaties.”

Government forces have been trying to overrun Rastan since May 14. Rebel fighters from the battered central city of Homs regrouped in the town, which straddles the main highway linking Damascus to the north.

More than 12,600 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against Assad’s rule broke out in March last year, including nearly 1,500 since the UN-backed truce took effect, according to Observatory figures.

In Geneva, the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the army and security forces were behind the majority of serious abuses committed since March this year as they hunt down defectors and opponents.

“Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the Commission in this update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government armed groups,” said the panel.

But speaking during talks with a visiting minister from key Middle East ally Iran, the Syrian leader insisted his government could find a way to end the 14-month uprising against his rule.

“Syria has been able to overcome the pressures and threats it has faced for years and is able to get out of this crisis thanks to the strength of its people and commitment to unity and independence,” state media quoted him as telling Communications and Information Technology Minister Reza Taqipour.

His comments came as parliament convened for the first time since a controversial May 7 election boycotted by the opposition and dismissed by the West as a farce.

Despite changes to the constitution ending the Baath’s five decade domination of power, more than 160 of the 250 members of parliament are Baathists and the legislature voted by 225 to eight to elect ruling party member Jihad Lahham as its speaker.

A donors’ working group set up by the Friends of Syria organisation formed by Arab and Western governments critical of the Assad regime meanwhile met to discuss a rescue plan for a post-conflict Syria similar to the Marshall Plan implemented in post-World War II Europe.

One of the opposition delegates to the working group, Farah Attasi, said a principal goal of the project was to prepare for “rebuilding the Syrian state” following a change of government.

The violence and the resulting Western sanctions have had a drastic impact on the Syrian economy. Tourism has been decimated and the government says oil revenues have been slashed by nearly $4 billion.

In an indication of the sweeping impact of US-led sanctions, Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said US banks were refusing to let the Syrian delegation open a bank account in what he described as a “flagrant violation” of the UN charter.