Last updated: 13 June, 2013

Mortars fired at Damascus airport

Damascus international airport came under rebel mortar attack Thursday, officials said, as the United Nations warned that children and families are increasingly becoming victims of the “vicious” conflict in Syria.

Faced with recent government victories, Free Syrian Army rebel military chief Selim Idriss is to meet on Friday in Turkey with representatives of countries allied with the opposition.

Rebels fired two mortar rounds, delaying two landings and one take-off, state television quoted Transport Minister Mahmoud Said as saying.

“One mortar round hit at the airport’s edges, near the runway, causing two flights coming from Latakia (in northwest Syria) and Kuwait to delay their landing. The take-off of a flight to Baghdad was also delayed,” he said.

No passengers were hurt, but the second round hit an airport warehouse and wounded a worker, Said added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the attack on the regime’s main gateway to the world had been carried out by home-made rockets.

“Rebels hit Damascus airport with three home-made rockets,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, who described the attack as “rare”.

The airport lies southeast of Damascus, near several flashpoint areas and near the heated Eastern Ghouta region, large swathes of which are in rebel hands.

With the conflict escalating, the United Nations in Geneva said at least 93,000 people, including more than 6,500 children, have been killed in Syria’s 27-month civil war.

The skyrocketing number of deaths over the past year, along with documented cases of children tortured and entire families massacred, “is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become,” UN rights chief Navi Pillay said.

Describing the killings as “senseless carnage”, Pillay said the toll in a new UN-commissioned study was “most likely a minimum casualty figure. The true number of those killed is potentially much higher.”

The number of people killed has soared over the past year, with the average monthly toll since July 2012 standing at more than 5,000, compared with 1,000 in the summer of 2011, the study said.

The figures in the study, running from the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011 to the end of April this year, compare with a UN toll of 60,000 in November and an estimate of 94,000 by a monitoring group.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said the conflict was taking an “unacceptable and unbearable” toll on youngsters, and Thursday’s study found that at least 6,561 children — 1,729 of them under 10 years old — had lost their lives.

On the ground, rebels overran a key army position in the central province of Hama, which lies on the road linking Damascus to Aleppo in the north, the Observatory said.

The capture of the Morek position comes days after pro-regime media announced an upcoming campaign to retake districts of Aleppo from rebels.

A Western source, meanwhile, said representatives of pro-opposition countries will meet in Istanbul on Friday with Idriss, who is seeking weapons and funding for his fighters.

On the international front, the UN is in exploratory talks with Sweden about its participation in a beefed-up peacekeeping force between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, officials from the two countries said.

The UN has asked Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt whether Stockholm would consider sending troops to the UN Disengagement Observer Force after Austrian troops have begun withdrawing because of attacks and abductions of peacekeepers.

“We’ve been in touch with the UN secretariat, they’re sending out feelers to different countries,” a spokesman for Bildt, Erik Zsiga, told AFP.

“It’s in very preliminary stages,” an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “It hasn’t been established yet who agrees, who wants it. The conditions are not clear.”

At a meeting in Cairo, influential Sunni clerics from several Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Egypt called for a holy war against the “sectarian” regime in Syria.

“We must undertake jihad to help our brothers in Syria by sending them money and arms, and providing all aid to save the Syrian people from this sectarian regime,” they said in a statement.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite movement has been fighting alongside the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam, against Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels.