Activists: At Least 78 Killed Near Syria’s Hama

Posted June 6th, 2012 at 8:00 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Syrian activists said Wednesday pro-government militia and security forces killed at least 78 people, including women and children, in the central province of Hama. They said some of those killed in the villages of al-Kubeir and Maazarif were stabbed to death and at least 12 bodies were burned.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 'shabiha' militiamen armed with guns and knives carried out the attack after regular troops had shelled the area.

Activists called for an immediate investigation. There was no comment from the Syrian government, and events on the ground are difficult to verify as Syria tightly restricts access to international media.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials are warning Syria and its backers that tougher international action against President Bashar al-Assad's government could follow unless Damascus demonstrates “meaningful compliance” with U.N. efforts to end the violence.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday the administration and its allies could soon tighten sanctions against the Syrian government and its leaders. He spoke to representatives from 55 countries gathered in Washington to discuss increasing pressure on Mr. Assad and his top officials.

“Strong sanctions, effectively implemented, aggressively enforced, can help deprive the Syrian regime of the resources it needs to sustain itself and to continue its repression of the Syrian people. Strong sanctions make clear to the Syrian business community and other supporters of the regime, their future is bleak so long as the Assad regime remains in power.”

Geithner said the U.S. would ask, if necessary, to invoke “Chapter 7” of the United Nations charter – a measure that could authorize the use of force.

“We, the United States, hope that all responsible nations will soon join in taking appropriate economic actions against the Syrian regime, including, if necessary, Chapter 7 action in the U.N. Security Council as called for by the Arab League last weekend.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Istanbul late Wednesday to co-chair a meeting on Syria with her Western and Arab colleagues.

A senior U.S. State Department official said after the meeting that Clinton made three points:

One: The international community has got to be united in understanding what needs to happen to make a political transition work in Syria. The transition must include President Bashar al-Assad leaving power, a fully inclusive interim government leading to free and fair elections, a ceasefire, and equality for all Syrians under the law.

Two: The international community must increase its pressure on the regime and its supporters both inside and outside the country. It must tighten existing sanctions and add more in the coming weeks to peal away the support of military and business community. Chapter 7 remains on the table “at an appropriate time.”

Three: The international community must improve coordination among those countries providing direct assistance to the Syrian opposition. Turkey will host a meeting in mid-June with the opposition and relevant governments.

The U.S. officials said special envoy for Syria Fred Hoff will go to Moscow Thursday, and France will host a Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on July 6, which Secretary Clinton is expected to attend.

Also Wednesday, U.N. diplomats said international envoy Kofi Annan will present the Security Council with a new proposal later this week to rescue his failing peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought the country to the brink of civil war.

They said Annan's new plan would establish a “contact group” for Syria that would include the five permanent members of the Council and key regional players with influence on Damascus or the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran. The group would attempt to map out a “political transition” leading to Mr. Assad's departure and the holding of free elections.

In China, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed to follow up on the contact group idea, saying nations exerting influence over Syrian opposition groups should join an international gathering to rescue Annan's faltering cease-fire deal. Russia is a longtime ally of the Assad government and has blamed his opponents for much of Syria's violence. China and Russia issued a statement Wednesday saying they are “decisively” against military intervention in Syria and regime change.

Secretary Clinton reacted cooly to Lavrov's proposal for a meeting on Syria that would include Iran, saying it is “a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime's assault on its people.”

The State Department has said Iran's paramilitary Quds Force is training Syrian militia, like those who Washington believes responsible for last month's killing of civilians in Houla. Clinton meets with Kofi Annan on Friday.

As Western pressure continues, Mr. Assad appointed a loyalist Baath party member as the country's new prime minister Wednesday, the latest step of what the president has called a political reform process. State media said the prime minister-designate, Riad Farid Hijab, will form Syria's next government.

Snowiss reported from Washington and Stearns from Istanbul.