UN’s Ban, Annan to Syria: Let Monitors Enter Rebel Town

Posted June 12th, 2012 at 2:40 am (UTC-5)
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and international envoy Kofi Annan have called on Syria to allow U.N. monitors to enter a rebellious northwestern town where the United States fears Syrian security forces are planning to massacre civilians.

Syrian activists and residents of Al-Haffeh say government helicopters and tanks have been attacking the town in Latakia province, trapping many civilians. In a statement released late Monday, Mr. Ban said it is important for U.N. observers to be granted “unimpeded access” to Al-Haffeh. Earlier, Mr. Annan had expressed “grave concern” about the situation in the town and “demanded” that the monitors be allowed to enter “immediately.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington is deeply alarmed about reports from inside Syria that government forces “may be organizing” massacres in Al-Haffeh and other opposition strongholds, including the Damascus suburbs, Daraa, Deir el-Zour, Hama and Homs.

“Syrian forces have already escalated their oppression in direct defiance of their commitments to the Annan plan by using new, horrific tactics, including the firing on civilians from the air by helicopters. Added to the use of irregular forces, the shabiha, this constitutes a very serious escalation.”

Nuland gave no indication of a new response to the crisis, reiterating the U.S. preference for diplomatic pressure against the Syrian government and repeating U.S. concerns that military intervention will turn the Syrian conflict into a “proxy war.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nationwide attacks by government and rebel forces killed at least 63 civilians and 21 troops on Monday. It said the fatalities included 10 people killed by a car bomb in the northeastern city of Deir el-Zour.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban said government shelling of the central city of Homs and helicopter attacks on the nearby towns of Talbiseh and Rastan have resulted in “heavy civilian casualties and human rights violations.” The U.N. observer mission confirmed the Syrian military's use of helicopters in the conflict for the first time on Monday.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Ban sent a report to the U.N. Security Council accusing Syrian security forces and pro-government militias of committing serious rights violations against children. In his annual report on children and armed conflict, Mr. Ban said Syrian children have been “victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence.”

He also said Syrian security forces have used children as human shields and converted schools into military bases.

U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch said the Security Council should impose an arms embargo and other targeted sanctions on the Syrian leadership in response to the abuses described in the report. It said Syrian children are paying a “horrendous price” in the conflict.