U.N. Fears for Syrians Trapped by Fighting

The United Nations reported intense fighting between the Syrian military and opposition forces in multiple locations across Syria on Monday and expressed alarm about civilians trapped in besieged rebel strongholds in the central city of Homs and northwestern village of Al Heffa.

United Nations cease-fire monitors reported artillery shelling and machine-gun fire in the Khaldiyeh section of Homs as well as the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, to the north. The monitors also reported the military’s use of helicopter gunships — a relatively new tactic employed by the Syrian Army, first observed by antigovernment activists in attacks on armed rebels around the major port of Latakia a week ago. The helicopter attacks are regarded as a significant escalation by the government side in the conflict.

Kofi Annan, the special envoy from the United Nations and Arab League whose peace plan that placed the cease-fire monitors into Syria has been basically ignored since its start two months ago, exhorted the antagonists to “take all steps to ensure that civilians are not harmed.”

Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the monitors, said they had been unable to confirm reports of casualties in the new outbursts and called on both sides “to grant the U.N. observers immediate and unfettered access to conflict zones.”

She also said that members of the Free Syrian Army, a group of Syrian Army defectors and others who have taken up weapons against the government, had captured an unspecified number of Syrian soldiers in Talbiseh.

Echoing the United Nations concern about possibly large numbers of trapped civilians, the State Department in Washington cited accounts by both the United Nations monitors and antigovernment Syrian activists suggesting the possibility that another massacre was looming.

Referring to such a possibility, which could mean a fifth massacre in less than three weeks, the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, told reporters in Washington: “We remind Syrian commanders of one of the lessons from Bosnia: The international community can and does learn what units were responsible for crimes against humanity, and you will be held responsible for your actions.”

The 16-month-old conflict between the political opposition and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which has left more than 10,000 people dead according to the United Nations, has increasingly taken on the contours of a sectarian-tinged civil war, pitting Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority against the country’s Sunni majority and other groups.

Mr. Assad’s global isolation has particularly deepened since a May 25 massacre of 108 civilians in the western village of Houla and a June 6 massacre of at least 49 in the hamlet of Qubeir near Homs, in which Syrian armed forces and feared plainclothes Shabiha militiamen are suspected. Many victims were women and children, and in the Qubeir case, the military and pro-government civilians temporarily blocked United Nations monitors from visiting to collect evidence.

Mr. Assad’s government has denied responsibility for any atrocities and has blamed his armed opponents, whom he calls foreign-backed terrorists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British group with a network of contacts in Syria, said the increased use of helicopter gunships partly reflected the military’s losses of tanks and other armed attack vehicles in repeated clashes in recent months. The group’s leader, who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdel-Rahman for reasons of personal safety, said at least 25 Syrian tanks had been destroyed since May 29.

The group reported heavy bombardments by Syrian forces on targets in Homs, Al Heffa and in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour. It said at least 50 people were reported killed in fighting nationwide on Monday, a figure that was impossible to corroborate.

Despite the increased bloodshed of recent weeks, United Nations diplomacy on additional steps to solve the Syria crisis remains stalled. Russia and China have said they will block any effort in the Security Council to authorize the use of force. The United States and its Western allies have imposed increasingly tough sanctions on Mr. Assad but have not supplied weapons to his opponents, who remain fractious and disorganized.

original post at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/world/middleeast/fears-for-trapped-civilians-as-syria-fighting-continues.html?hpw


About Jack Garrand
I am new to blogging and hope to share my gaming interests with the world.

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