Security Council Briefed on Syrian ‘Low Point’

Posted May 30th, 2012 at 3:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The deputy to international envoy Kofi Annan has briefed the U.N.'s 15-nation Security Council on the envoy's visit to Syria, prompting one diplomat to call the current situation a “low point in the conflict.”

After Wednesday's closed briefing, Germany's ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wittig, told reporters that he hoped the “flagrant violations” like the recent massacre in Houla was an “eye opener for some members of the Council.” He added that Germany is “against the militarization of the conflict.”

Mr. Annan left Syria Wednesday and went to talks with Jordanian officials. A U.N. official said the international envoy did not secure any major steps from the Syrian government to implement a faltering peace plan for the country.

The Russian ambassador to the U.N., whose country says it will veto any Council resolution that authorizes foreign military interference in Syria, said after the briefing that Russia is dissatisfied with the “current state of things.”

The U.N. observer mission in Syria confirmed the killings of 13 people in the northeastern province of Deir el-Zour. The mission said U.N. monitors found the bodies late Tuesday, with some of the dead appearing to have been shot in the head from short range and all having their hands tied behind their backs.

U.N. observer chief Robert Mood, a Norwegian general, said he is “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act.” He also called on all parties “to exercise restraint and end the cycle of violence.”

International outrage has mounted since a massacre of more than 100 civilians took place in the central Syrian town of Houla last Friday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged the international community to take tougher action against Mr. Assad's government for what he called its “crimes against humanity.”

“The events in Syria mean the world must take action, not only by talking, but by acting. These are crimes against humanity, and it is impossible that the international community stand aloof.”

The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday announced it will freeze the assets of the Syrian International Islamic Bank to tighten economic pressure on the Syrian government.

A number of nations are expelling Syrian diplomats in protest of the Houla massacre. Japan and Turkey announced the step on Wednesday. They joined nine nations that announced the expulsions of Syrian diplomats on Tuesday, including the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The Syrian government retaliated on Wednesday by ordering the Dutch charge d'affaires to leave Syria within 72 hours.

The Russian ambassador said Wednesday the expulsions were a “bilateral matter,” but warned that they could be “misinterpreted by those who want to see foreign military intervention and fighting in Syria.”

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposes regime change by force in Syria. He also said he is not aware of any Chinese move to expel or disrupt the work of Syrian diplomats in the country.

Mr. Annan's plan called on the Syrian government to withdraw heavy weapons from civilian areas and abide by a truce with rebels. But attacks by both sides have continued.

Syrian activists said fighting between government and rebel forces on Wednesday killed at least nine people, five of them in the Damascus suburb of Douma. They said government troops shelled Douma and the central city of Homs, also an opposition stronghold. The casualties could not be independently confirmed.

Diplomats in Geneva said the U.N. Human Rights Council plans to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the Houla massacre. They said the United States, Turkey and Qatar led the push for the special session.