Last updated: 11 April, 2013

At least 57 killed in army assault in southern Syria

Syria demanded Thursday that the UN slap sanctions on a jihadist group after it pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, as the opposition accused regime forces of “savage” killings in the country’s south.

The demand by Damascus that the UN class Al-Nusra Front as an Al-Qaeda-linked group came as G8 foreign ministers meeting in London said they were “appalled” at the spiralling violence but made no mention of supplying arms to the rebels.

In a letter to the United Nations, Syria’s foreign ministry said it “expects the Security Council to fulfil its role and preserve global security,” and class the Al-Nusra Front as an Al-Qaeda-linked group, state media reported.

A sanctions regime was introduced by the UN to punish individuals and entities linked to Al-Qaeda, freezing assets, banning travel and imposing an embargo on arms destined for the terror network.

The letter followed a pledge by Al-Nusra Front on Wednesday of allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and support for his call for an Islamic state to be created in Syria, raising concerns by Western nations about weapons falling into the wrong hands.

On the battlefield, details emerged of an army assault in which six children were among dozens of people killed — some summarily executed — in two towns of the southern province of Daraa.

“At least six children, seven women, 16 rebel fighters, 16 other unidentified men and 12 army troops were killed on Wednesday in fighting, shelling and summary executions waged after the army launched an assault on Al-Sanamein and Ghabagheb,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The main opposition National Coalition denounced the killings as “brutal and savage”, adding they were driven “by nothing but a lust for murder and a thirst for blood”.

“The (regime’s) criminals shelled the town and then assaulted it, then allowed its criminals to carry out all kinds of despicable atrocities,” said the Coalition.

The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists, also condemned the assault.

It said the army shelled Al-Sanamein for seven hours before storming the town.

In the central city of Homs, pro-regime militia killed at least seven children and their 18-year-old brother on Wednesday, along with their father and grandfather, said the Observatory.

Gruesome amateur video distributed by the Observatory showed the bodies of 10 members from the same family, including children with their throats slashed and their grandmother with her eye gorged out.

Other footage showed two corpses being set ablaze by two men who identified themselves as shabiha — pro-regime militia.

With the death toll rising and no end in sight to the violence, the G8 foreign ministers urged greater “humanitarian” assistance for those caught up in a conflict that is now in its third year.

In a statement issued after two days of talks, the ministers “expressed deep concerns about the increasing human tragedy of the conflict in Syria”.

“They were appalled that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict and that there are now more than a million Syrian refugees registered by the UNHCR in neighbouring countries, and more than two million internally displaced persons in Syria,” they said.

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, accused the regime of deliberately or indiscriminately killing more than 4,300 civilians since July 2012 in air strikes it said amount to war crimes.

Bakeries and hospitals were among the civilian targets hit by air strikes as the regime resorts to an increasingly indiscriminate use of its air power, said the New York-based group.

On Thursday, Syria’s air force pounded for the second straight day a rural area across the border in Lebanon near Arsal, a town populated by Sunni Muslims opposed to Assad, officials said. Four people were wounded.

Violence across Syria killed at least 69 people, among them 27 civilians, said the Observatory.