Activists Say Syrian Forces Kill 20 at Funeral

Posted May 15th, 2012 at 1:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say government forces have shot and killed at least 20 people at a funeral procession in central Syria while U.N. military observers were in the area.

The activists say the shootings happened Tuesday in Khan Sheikhoun, near the city of Hama. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties.

A spokesman for international peace envoy Kofi Annan says a convoy of four U.N. vehicles visiting Khan Sheikhoun was struck by a roadside bomb, damaging three of the vehicles. The spokesman said no U.N. personnel were injured.

Syrian activists also reported the killings of at least seven other people across the country on Tuesday. They said a blast killed four people in the coastal town of Banias, while fighting between government and rebel forces killed three people in the eastern town of Deir el-Zour.

Syrian state news agency SANA blamed the Banias explosion on armed terrorists who it says are leading the revolt.

The violence further undermines a shaky cease-fire brokered last month by Mr. Annan.

Despite the continuing battles and attacks, the chief of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said his team is having a “calming effect” on the situation in rebellious regions where it has been deployed.

Norwegian Major General Robert Mood said the mission has grown to more than 200 military monitors with the arrival of personnel from China, Indonesia, Italy and Paraguay. He also said he is “impressed by the cooperation” of all parties with the U.N. team.

But, the relief group Doctors Without Borders said a team of foreign medics returning from a secret mission in Syria reported that people wounded in the uprising, and the doctors who treat them, are at risk of arrest or attack.

The group said the medics sneaked into the opposition hubs of Homs and Idlib after failing to get government permission to enter the country.

Doctors Without Borders called on all sides in the conflict to fully respect health workers, medical facilities and the wounded.

In another development, the Syrian government said more than half of eligible voters turned out for a May 7 parliamentary election boycotted by opposition groups who said it had no credibility while security forces pursue a deadly crackdown on dissent.

Syrian election committee chairman Khalaf al-Izzaoui said Tuesday the voter turnout reached 51 percent, equivalent to five million people. There was no independent monitoring of the election, and opposition activists said there was little voting in towns and villages where security forces have been suppressing a 14-month long opposition uprising.

The election was the first to be held since a February referendum approved a new constitution allowing the formation of new parties to compete with Syria's Baath-led coalition.

Several new parties participated in last week's vote, which the government praised as a major political reform. But, the exiled Syrian National Council opposition group dismissed the new parties as government creations.

Syrian election chief al-Izzaoui read out a list of winning candidates on Tuesday for the 250-seat parliament, which has been dominated for decades by the Baath party of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The list included 30 women and one candidate who has described himself as an independent, Qadri Jamil. The Syrian official did not give a breakdown of votes by party or region.

The SNC, meanwhile, said Tuesday that its members voted to extend the term of their leader Burhan Ghalioun by another three months. Ghalioun, a secular academic, won more than half of the votes cast by members of the SNC's general secretariat at a meeting in Rome.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in violence related to the anti-government uprising which erupted more than a year ago. The Syrian government has blamed armed terrorist groups for much of the country's unrest.