UN Human Rights Chief: Further Militarization of Syria Must Be Avoided

Posted July 2nd, 2012 at 4:55 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations human rights chief says the arming of both sides in Syria is fueling violence and must be must be avoided at all costs.

Navi Pillay said Monday in New York that both the government and the opposition are responsible for numerous human rights violations.

She accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of indiscriminately firing on civilians, rape, torture and the targeting of opposition supporters for death. She said government forces have also fired on hospitals.

Pillay said those trying to rid Syria of the Assad government have murdered suspected informers and alleged collaborators and are using improvised bombs which have killed civilians.

President Assad blames the violence and civilian deaths on terrorists. Pillay is asking the Syrian government to let independent investigators into the country to verify its claim.

Russia and China have been major backers of President Assad while U.N. officials say Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supplying arms to the opposition.

State media in Turkey said Monday that 85 Syrian soldiers — including a general — defected to Turkey.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby is urging the fragmented Syrian opposition to unite. Elaraby is chairing a two-day meeting of 250 opposition figures. He is telling them “not to waste this opportunity” to overcome their differences.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said Monday that a “weak and disorganized” opposition would only benefit the Assad government. He said Damascus is making a futile attempt to “reverse the course of history.”

“There will be a transition and change in Syria. It is inevitable, and there will be a new administration and democratic regime in Syria eventually. It must be clear that only the Syrian people are to decide about the future of any agreement on their own country.”

Anti-government fighters based in Syria are boycotting the Cairo meeting. The Free Syrian Army criticized the talks for rejecting foreign military intervention and ignoring plans for buffer zones, humanitarian corridors, and an air embargo.

Syrian opposition groups are also rejecting a new version of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's plan for a political transition in Syria adopted at an international conference in Geneva.

At Russia's insistence, the compromise left open the possibility of Mr. Assad being a part of the interim administration. Opposition members call the plan “ambiguous” and “a farce” and rule out any possibility of sharing power with the reviled Syrian leader.

But U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the plan is structured in a way that anyone who fails to meet the approval of the other candidates for the transitional government would not be allowed to serve. In theory, this would make it impossible for Mr. Assad or any of his friends to be a part of Syria's future.

Also Monday, Turkey scrambled warplanes near its southern border with Syria for the second time in three days after Syrian helicopters approached the area.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former ally of Mr. Assad who has turned against him, says Turkey's military rules of engagement have been changed and any Syrian forces approaching the border and deemed threatening will be targeted.

Syria shot down a Turkish warplane 10 days ago under disputed circumstances.

Fighting continued inside Syria on Monday, as government helicopters and artillery pounded rebel-held areas across the country, including the Damascus suburb of Douma and the central city of Homs.