Last updated: 18 September, 2012

Syria clashes rage as UN deplores gross human rights abuses

Syrian troops shelled several districts in Aleppo and clashed with rebels on Tuesday, as Damascus ally Iran proposed a simultaneous halt to the violence and a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Clashes erupted in Bustan al-Qasr in the southwest and in nearby Izaa as both districts were shelled, residents of Syria’s second city said, also reporting fighting further south in Sukari.

At a hospital in Shaar district, an AFP correspondent saw a couple arrive with their baby, its head bleeding, after their neighbourhood of Sheikh Fares had come under tank fire.

They were in tears as they tried to console their two other children. Other people arrived, their faces ashen from the dust of rubble, as several pickup trucks of rebels arrived with wounded men.

A rebel who identified himself as Abu Mansur congratulated one of his men saying: “He killed 10 soldiers before he was wounded for the first time.”

Inside the rudimentary hospital, which has been hit several times by rocket fire, the correspondent saw bloodstained floors and towels in hallways.

At least four civilians were killed in shelling of Sukari, Sakhur and Hanano districts, while two rebels and three civilians were killed elsewhere in the northern city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The two-month-old battle for Aleppo remains very fluid, with both sides claiming gains in a guerrilla war, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

In Damascus, at least seven people were killed in shelling as the army tried to push into the southern districts of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Qadam and Assali, the Observatory said.

It later reported that residents found 20 bodies in Al-Hajar Al-Aswad.

Troops also bombed parts of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing 10 civilians in one town alone.

Another nine, including six women and two children, were killed in shelling in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The Observatory gave a toll of at least 65 civilians, nine rebels and 12 soldiers killed on Tuesday, on top of the more than 27,000 people it says have been killed since the uprising erupted in March 2011. The United Nations says more than 20,000 have died.

Iran’s proposal for a halt to the violence emerged at a meeting in Cairo on Monday of the Syria “contact group” to which it, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey belong, Tehran’s official IRNA news agency said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi appealed for “a simultaneous halt in clashes and violence by the sides in Syria, (and) insisted on a peaceful solution without foreign intervention and a halt to financial, military and training support for the Syrian opposition,” IRNA reported.

He also suggested that observers from the countries could “monitor the process of stopping the violence in Syria,” IRNA added.

Last month, the United Nations withdrew its own observers after both sides failed to adhere to an April ceasefire to which they had committed.

Salehi is due Wednesday in Damascus for talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, a Syrian government source said.

Iran’s strong support for Bashar al-Assad contrasts with the positions of the other three members of the contact group, who are all demanding that Assad step down.

Saudi Arabia, absent from Monday’s talks, has barred Syrians from entering the country to perform the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage, Syrian state media said, marking the latest break between the two nations.

— ‘Dramatic escalation in attacks on civilians’ —


As the killing continues, the head of a UN commission investigating rights abuses in Syria said they had soared dramatically in recent weeks and that the UN Security Council should take “appropriate action” against war criminals.

“Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said on Monday, adding that Assad’s regime and rebels, to a lesser extent, had committed war crimes.

Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, echoed similar views as he briefed the Security Council, saying: “Indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by government forces with heavy weapons, tanks and air assets has increased.”

And Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to refer the conflict to the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, Turkish media reported that Syrian troops and rebels clashed on Tuesday for control of the Tall al-Abyad border post with Turkey.

A Turkish diplomatic source contacted by AFP confirmed the clashes and said some shelling had hit inside Turkish territory, but did not indicate if there were any victims or damage.

In other developments, UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was welcomed by some 1,300 Syrians at the Altinozu refugee camp in Turkey’s Hatay province near the Syrian border, amid anti-regime chants like “Free Syria! We will fight till freedom!”

But in northern Jordan, some 200 refugees threw stones at his motorcade as he left the Zaatari camp.

“They said they were angry because he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and tried to give him a chance to kill more people, according to them,” a Jordanian security official said.