UN Rights Body Discussing Syrian Slaughter

Posted June 1st, 2012 at 4:10 am (UTC-5)
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The United Nations' top human rights body is holding an emergency session Friday in Geneva to discuss last week's slaughter of dozens of men, women and children in the Syrian town of Houla.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to place at least partial blame on the Syrian government for the massacre of at least 108 people, nearly half of them children.

A draft resolution circulated Thursday and seen by VOA condemned the killings, which it said “involved a series of government artillery and tank shelling of a residential neighborhood.” It condemned the use of force against civilians and called for the Syrian government to immediately end all violence.

The council is also expected to call for an investigation into the massacre, which prompted international outrage and rekindled efforts to stem the 15-month-old conflict.

The Syrian government on Thursday blamed the atrocity on armed opposition groups who it said attacked families who would not join anti-government protests. That claim was immediately rejected by U.S. officials.

Meanwhile, opposition activists reported renewed fighting ahead of a rebel commander's deadline for the Syrian government to comply with a U.N.-backed peace plan.

The Local Coordination Committees group said the Free Syrian Army was engaged in “violent clashes” with government forces in the suburbs of Damascus early Friday.

Earlier this week, a general in the Free Syrian Army said his forces will no longer be bound by the U.N. peace plan if the Syrian government fails to take steps to also comply with it by midday Friday.

The government and the rebels agreed in April to a truce mediated by international envoy Kofi Annan. But the fighting has continued, with each side accusing the other of violating the deal.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he “demands” the Syrian government abide by its peace pledges. He said the almost 300-member U.N. military observer team in Syria is not meant to play the role of “passive observer to unspeakable atrocities.”

The U.N. chief also warned that more massacres such as the Houla incident “could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war … from which the country would never recover.”

U.S. officials on Thursday also warned of a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russia's failure to take decisive action against Mr. Assad will “help contribute” to the very civil war officials in Moscow say they are helping to avoid.

Speaking in Denmark, Clinton said she rejects the Russians' “vociferous…claim that they are providing a stabilizing influence” in Syria. Instead, she said, Moscow is propping up Mr. Assad as his government continues a brutal crackdown on dissent U.N. estimates say has killed more than 10,000 people.

Russia, along with China, has repeatedly blocked the U.N. Security Council from taking punitive action against the Assad government, a longtime Russian ally.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the U.S. military is prepared for any action against Syria, saying the situation was “intolerable.” But Panetta said he does not foresee a scenario where Washington takes military action without U.N. endorsement.

His remarks came a day after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., suggested that military intervention may be the only remaining option if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the crisis.