Syrian massacre continues to spare no one

Syria's 'collective massacre' spares no one, Gulf nations say
By Josh Levs and Holly Yan

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(CNN) — As violence raged Tuesday in parts of Syria and images on social media showed people, including children, dead in the streets, a group of Arab nations announced they are calling home their ambassadors.

The Gulf Cooperation Council said it made the decision “with deep sorrow and anger” at the increased pace of killings in Syria “that did not spare a child, old man, or woman — heinous acts that can be described as a collective massacre against the defenseless Syrian people without any mercy or pity, and without considering any rights or feelings of humanity or morality.”

UNICEF, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, said there have been “deaths and injuries of hundreds of children.”

“There are reports of children being arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sexually abused while in detention,” the organization said in a written statement.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait — also expelled Syria’s ambassadors, saying “their presence became useless after the Syrian regime has rejected all attempts, and thwarted all Arab sincere efforts to resolve this crisis and stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people.”

Spain, France and Italy called home their ambassadors as well. Britain did so on Monday, the same day the United States closed its embassy in Damascus, saying the Syrian government was refusing to address its security concerns.

The Gulf Cooperation Council also called on Arab League nations, at a meeting next week, to “take decisive action against this dangerous escalation against the Syrian people.”

The council may pursue another step. Use of the term “collective massacre” in the statement indicates that the members are ready to begin building a case against the Syrian regime for consideration by the International Criminal Court, a council diplomatic source told CNN.

And by calling for “decisive action,” the council is pressuring members of the Arab League, such as Sudan, Algeria, and Iraq, to withdraw their support for the al-Assad regime and facilitate more aggressive decisions, the source said.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, a leading Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee, said Tuesday the United States “should start considering all options, including arming the opposition. The bloodletting has got to stop.”

Meanwhile, Syria tried to project an image of support for the regime.

Throngs of supporters shown on state TV cheered the arrival of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, three days after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have demanded al-Assad stop the violence against the opposition in his country.

“Every leader in every country should understand their responsibility. You understand yours,” Lavrov told al-Assad, according to Russia’s state-run Ria Novosti news agency. “It’s in our interests that the Arab peoples live in peace and harmony.”

In a statement reported by SANA, Lavrov said al-Assad affirmed his commitment to the Arab League plan “of putting an end to violence regardless of its source. To this end, Syria affirms its interest in continuing work with the Arab League observer mission and increasing observer numbers to cover all points and verify any breaches or violations to the principle of not allowing violence regardless of source.”

The Arab League had suspended its observer mission because of the sharp increase in violence.

Syria, which routinely blames the violence on “armed terrorist groups,” said such groups were behind violence in parts of the country Tuesday.

“Terrorist groups continued armed attacks in Homs, Idlib and Damascus countryside targeting civilians and military personnel, and shelled residential areas with mortar shells and vandalized public and private facilities, not sparing even mosques to which citizens turned for protection,” state-run news agency SANA reported.

The Syrian interior ministry, in a statement on state TV, vowed that “the operation of pursuing the terrorist groups will continue” until security is restored Homs. The mission includes “terminating anyone who carries a weapon and is terrorizing the citizens,” the statement said, adding that “the opportunity is still there for members of these groups to surrender.”

At least 23 people were killed Tuesday in Syria, including 13 in Homs, the city which has seen some of the worst violence in recent days; six in Damascus suburbs; two in Idlib; one in Aleppo and one in Daraa, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

“The entire world should be ashamed of what’s happening here,” a Damascus-based opposition member told CNN.

“Children are hungry,” and people are without power, said the activist, identified only as Zaidoun for his safety. “For God’s sake, this is too much.”

He added, “Everybody is just silent and looking at us being slaughtered every moment, for no reason — just for asking for our freedom.”

Several countries issued new calls for Syria to halt the violence.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had some of the sharpest words, calling on al-Assad “to return from this wrong path before taking the lives of more innocent civilians.” In comments broadcast live on Turkish TV, Erdogan said he had a message for al-Assad “in a way he can understand: … What goes around comes around.”

Erdogan also called events at the U.N. Security Council “a fiasco in terms of the civilized world.”

Opposition activists and several of the 13 U.N. Security Council member nations that voted for the resolution have said Russia and China have blood on their hands for vetoing it as more members of the opposition are killed.

Lavrov described Western condemnation of the veto as “hysterical,” according to state-run news agency Ria Novosti.

Both China and Russia have said they oppose the violence and want the situation resolved through dialogue.

“We believe in continuing the efforts to reach a resolution for the Syrian crisis,” Syrian state TV quoted Lavrov as saying. “… Russia needs peace and an agreement has to be reached, away from any foreign interference.”

While world leaders seek ways to mount pressure on the regime, the situation inside Syria “is beyond description,” according to the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission. The group reported 128 deaths Monday, mostly in Homs.

“Some of these martyrs were killed with shrapnel and the others were under the rubble, and their bodies couldn’t be identified because they were in remains,” the group said.

Mousa Azzawi of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, speaking to CNN in London, said, “The situation is very dire,” and Monday was almost “like a bloodbath.”

“We have pictures of children under the age of 14 with half of their faces blown away; with children under the age of 4 with all of their bodies with nail bombs. We have pictures of one child who was dying on the lap of his mother under the age of 1,” Azzawi said.

U.N. officials estimate 6,000 people have died since protests began nearly a year ago. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists that organizes and documents protests, said at least 7,339 people have been killed.

CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because the government has restricted journalists’ access to the country.

Al-Assad’s British-born wife has been largely quiet during the Syrian uprising. But an article published Monday in The Times of London said Asma al-Assad appears to support her husband, while also wanting dialogue and comfort for the bereaved in the country.

According to an e-mail sent through an intermediary from Asma al-Assad’s office, “The president is the president of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the first lady supports him in that role,” The Times reported.

“The first lady’s very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved with and rural development as well as supporting the President as needed,” the e-mail continued, according to The Times. “These days she is equally involved in bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue. She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence.”

SANA reported Tuesday that a national committee has completed a draft constitution for the country.

Protesters and rebel fighters are demanding an end to al-Assad’s rule and the beginning of true democratic elections. Al-Assad has been in power since 2000; his father, Hafez, ruled Syria for three decades before that.

An opposition activist in Homs, identified only as “Danny” to protect his safety, said government forces fired rockets on the city after the U.N. draft resolution failed over the weekend.

“You have rockets landing next to your house. I’m next to a window and a rocket might kill me,” he said.

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