Horrifying Massacres have Syrians desperate for aid

Syrian opposition urges U.N. action over ‘horrific massacres’

By Joe SterlingRima Maktabi and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
updated 12:12 PM EST, Wed December 21, 2011

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Syria threatens to execute ‘terrorists’
  • The violence spiked after Syria agreed to an Arab League plan to calm the situation
  • The United Nations estimates that about 5,000 people have died in Syrian violence this year
  • The Syrian National Council wants U.N. and Arab League action
  • It says nearly 250 civilians died over a two-day period

(CNN) — Syria’s major opposition group condemned Bashar al-Assad’s regime Wednesday for “horrific massacres” this week and called on the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council to take “necessary measures” to protect civilians.

The Syrian National Council said nearly 250 people have died over a 48-hour period. It urged the Arab League to condemn the killings and work with the United Nations to stop the reported regime violence, which includes alleged mosque and hospital bombings and the use of human shields.

The violence spiked as Syria agreed to an Arab League observer mission Monday aimed at ending the violence between regime forces and protesters that started in mid-March. The United Nations this month estimated that about 5,000 people have died in the bloodshed.

“The SNC stresses the need to take all necessary actions to stop the bloody campaign that is targeting more cities and towns through the regime’s militant expansion,” the group said in a news release dated Tuesday but issued Wednesday to CNN via e-mail.

It called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting “to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawiyeh mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular; issue international condemnation thereof; declare the cities and towns being brutally attacked ‘safe zones’ that enjoy international protection; and force the regime’s forces to withdraw from said areas.”

The group is calling for a declaration “that Zawiyeh mountain, Idlib, and Homs are disaster areas exposed to large-scale genocide and displacement operations by the Syrian regime’s militias” and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations “to intervene directly and provide urgent humanitarian assistance.”

Mohamed Hamdo, a lieutenant colonel in the Free Syrian Army, told CNN on Wednesday that government forces “used military jet fighters and bombed Jabal Al Zawya, including a mosque that contained around 100 civilians who were praying or using it as a refuge.” Jabal Al Zawya is in the Idlib region in northwestern Syria.

Hamdo said the military also “destroyed the town of Idlib completely and bombed a hospital there. The problem is they are using women and children who are mounted on their tanks as they raid, making it impossible for us to hit back.”

“We have information that they are preparing an attack to control the border crossing to Turkey. We are dispersing our FSA platoons to counterattack. They are using surface-to-air missiles, mortars, military jet fighters and artillery.”

Activist groups also reported a surge in killings this week. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a higher death toll of 111 on Tuesday and 121 on Monday. The Monday figure included 72 soldiers who tried to defect.

The civilian death toll so far Wednesday is 12, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition umbrella group.

And, a video surfaced on social media of a boy’s grisly killing in Homs during a missile attack Tuesday.

This violence comes as an Arab League advance team is headed to Damascus on Thursday to prepare for the observer mission. There would be 500 observers in teams of 10 to investigate what is happening on the ground in a month-long mission renewable by another month.

The league’s secretary-general, Nabil el-Araby, called for an “immediate stop” of violence and “swift action” Thursday to pave the way for the observer mission.

“The Syrian government must take responsibility of protecting its citizens in accord to their promises and agreement entailed in the Arab Plan,” said el-Araby, worried about news of increased violence.

The observer protocol is part of a larger initiative that calls for withdrawing the army and militias called shabiha, releasing detainees and ending all forms of violence. But Syria and the Arab League haven’t yet signed the larger initiative, only the observer protocol, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saudi Al Faisal said Tuesday.

“We expect Syria to follow a policy of buying time, delay and limit the observers’ movement on the ground. We think it is a political maneuver by the Syrian regime,” said an Arab diplomat intimately involved with the Arab League deliberations. The diplomat could not speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Opposition members have criticized the Arab League for naming Sudanese Brig. Gen. Mohammed Mustafa Al-Dabi to be the chairman of the observer mission. They cite close ties between Sudan and Syria and Sudan’s track record of using its own national security officials to target activists and political groups.

The White House said it is “deeply disturbed by credible reports that the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians and army defectors, while destroying homes and shops and arresting protesters without due process.

“While Syrian security forces have also taken casualties, the overwhelming majority of the violence and loss of life in Syria stems from the actions of the Assad regime, and we call on all parties to put an end to violence.”

The United States, the European Union, the Arab League and Turkey have initiated sanctions against the regime.

“The Assad regime is already facing growing isolation and sanctions that are choking off its resources. We urge Syria’s few remaining supporters in the international community to warn Damascus that if the Arab League initiative is once again not fully implemented, the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown.”

The French Foreign Ministry called on the U.N. Security Council to speak out on a firm resolution that ends repression in Syria, and it asked Russia, a Syrian ally, to “accelerate talks” at the council on a plan it devised to deal with the instability.

“Everything must be done to stop this murderous spiral into which Bashar al-Assad is dragging his people deeper each day,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. “In this serious context, France calls for a bigger mobilization of the international community.”

CNN could not independently verify the allegations because Syria restricts the activity of journalists in the country.

The Syrian government maintains that it is cracking down on armed terrorists who attack security forces and civilians. The activists say the government’s brutal crackdown against peaceful protests has led to the deaths.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Embassy in Damascus has confirmed the kidnapping of five Iranian engineers in Syria on Wednesday and demanded their release, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported. They are employed by the Jondor Homs electricity plant, Mehr reported.

“These people were in Syria to provide the Syrians with technical and development help, and they should be freed as quickly as possible,” the Iranian Embassy said.

There has been opposition anger toward Iran and its support of the Syrian government.

CNN’s Kindah Shair and Saad Abedine contributed to this report

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