5 Killed in Syria, Pressure Mounts on Government

Posted November 17th, 2011 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Syrian rights groups say security forces killed five more people across the country Thursday, one day after an armed opposition group attacked a military base in an escalation of tensions over an eight-month government crackdown on protesters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that security forces killed two people in and around Deir Ezzor, including a young girl. The group says security forces killed two people in Homs, a flashpoint for protests, and one other in Idlib.

There was no independent confirmation of the attacks or of the casualties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow Thursday that an attack by the Free Syrian Army on a Syrian military base on the outskirts of Damascus Wednesday “looks very much like a civil war.” The Free Syrian Army is made up of defectors from government security forces.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said it is time for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. She commented after meeting with Lavrov.

At the United Nations, Germany, Britain and France are continuing to push for a resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said Wednesday a strongly worded resolution would show Mr. Assad “just how isolated he is.”

The draft resolution “strongly condemns” the Syrian government for “continued grave and systematic human rights violations.” It also urges Mr. Assad's government to implement an Arab League plan designed to end Syria's unrest.

China and Russia also are expressing concern, after the two nations vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution last month that would have condemned the Syrian crackdown.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin called Thursday for the crisis to be resolved through political means. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also called for an end to fighting between the government and opposition groups. He urged all sides to resolve their differences peacefully.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also rejected the use of force in Syria but told French radio Thursday that Syrian opposition groups must get more organized. Juppe said he has had contacts with the Paris-based Syrian National Council and that France is trying to encourage and help the council.

The latest comments and the push for a U.N. resolution follow an ultimatum from Arab League ministers, who on Wednesday gave Syria's government three days to end the bloodshed and allow in teams of observers to monitor compliance.

The ministers announced their decision after an emergency meeting in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, Wednesday. However, they did not say what will happen if Damascus fails to comply.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also participated in the meeting, and told the gathering the Syrian government “will pay a high price.” Syria boycotted the talks, just days after the league voted to suspend Syria's membership.

The meeting was overshadowed by reports of escalating violence in Syria, fueling fears of a looming civil war.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department blamed the apparent emergence of an armed opposition in Syria on government brutality. Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said that although the U.S. does not condone violence by either side, incidents like Wednesday's attack on a Syrian military base are understandable, given the unrelenting crackdown by the government.

Syria is only the third nation in the Arab League's history to be suspended — Egypt in 1979 for its overtures to Israel, and Libya earlier this year. Tripoli's membership was restored after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.

The United Nations says at least 3,500 people have been killed in connection with the Syrian revolt since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed terrorists and religious extremists.