Activists: Syrian Forces Kill 20 at Funeral; UN Convoy Attacked

Posted May 15th, 2012 at 6:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say government forces shot and killed at least 20 mourners at a funeral procession in central Syria and that minutes later a roadside bomb exploded near U.N. military observers in the area.

The two incidents took place Tuesday in Khan Sheikhoun, near the central city of Hama. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces committed a “massacre” in the presence of the U.N. observers who were in a four-vehicle convoy. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties.

Shortly after the shooting, a roadside bomb exploded near the U.N. group, damaging several vehicles. A video of the incident was posted on the Internet. The U.N. mission confirmed its vehicles were hit by a bomb just minutes after monitors met with rebels from the Free Syrian Army, saying all observers were safe.

Also Tuesday, the relief group Doctors Without Borders said a team of foreign medics returning from a secret mission in Syria reported that civilians wounded in the uprising – and the doctors who treat them – are at risk of arrest or attack. Spokeswoman Marie-Noëlle Rodrigue described the dangers.

“Patients, and doctors, are terrorized [and] tracked down. To be a doctor [in Syria] today is more dangerous than to carry a weapon. Pharmacies are being looted or burned, hospitals are being destroyed, some are being militarized, meaning that if you don't belong to the right side, you can't have access to care. This was seen by the team while they were there.”

Rodrigue said the medics sneaked into the opposition hubs of Homs and Idlib after government ministries repeatedly refused their requests for official legal access into the country.

“It was a two-person team, a surgeon and an anesthesiologist, who managed to enter, and stayed in the northern Idlib region for a couple of days.”

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 that was boycotted by opposition groups that said it had no credibility while security forces pursue a deadly crackdown on dissent.

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

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday the vote was “neither free, fair, transparent or representative of the Syrian people.”

Several new parties participated in last week's vote, but the exiled Syrian National Council dismissed the new groups 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 opposition SNC, meanwhile, said its members had voted to extend the term of their leader Burhan Ghalioun by another three months.

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