Violence in Syria spilled across borders into Turkey and Lebanon as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime spurned today’s United Nations deadline for a cease-fire.
A Lebanese cameraman was killed in a car near a border crossing yesterday and two Syrian civilians who sought refuge in Turkey were injured by gunfire from Syria, in what may prove final blows to a peace plan crafted by UN special envoy Kofi Annan. In Syria, security forces killed 160 people yesterday, according to the Local Coordination Committees. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem is in Moscow today for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Russia, an ally of Syria, backs the Annan peace initiative.
The latest killings, and a report by Human Rights Watch saying Syrian soldiers rounded up civilians and shot them in mosques, highlighted the limits of traditional diplomacy in resolving a yearlong conflict that is deteriorating into civil war and embroiling Syria’s neighbors.
“The worst-case scenario is happening before our eyes,” David Schenker, a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an interview. “There is worse to come, and as the conflict drags on, the opposition will radicalize.”
The conflict in Syria, now in its second year, has left more than 9,000 people dead by UN estimates and turned the country into a battleground between Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran. Syria’s borders with Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey have raised the stakes for governments across the region.
Two Syrian nationals who took shelter at a refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey, and two Turkish citizens working there were wounded by gunshots from Syria, according to a statement yesterday by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
Turkey, whose longest border is with Syria, will consider “necessary measures” in case of more incursions on its territory, the Foreign Ministry said. The Milliyet newspaper reported yesterday that Turkey may establish buffer zones, which would require a substantial military presence to enforce.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati confirmed the death of Ali Shaaban, a Lebanese cameraman for Al Jadeed television, in an online statement and said he had asked for an immediate investigation into the circumstances.
‘Deplore and Condemn’
Shaaban, on assignment in the northern area of Wadi Khaled near the border with Syria, was in a car when he was shot in the chest and then died on his way to the hospital, the Associated Press reported, citing unidentified Lebanese security officials.
“We deplore and condemn the shooting from the Syrian side of the border on the Lebanese crew while performing their duties inside Lebanon,” Mikati said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an e-mailed statement that he was “alarmed by the reports of continued violence and human-rights violations in Syria” as flows of refugees seek to flee.
“Not only has the violence not abated; it has been worse in recent days,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday in Washington.
Syrian forces have carried out more than 100 extra-judicial executions since December, treated children as human shields, opened fire on civilians and used mosques as places to round up and kill people, according to Human Rights Watch, which said it documented at least a dozen cases based on about 30 eyewitness accounts.
In one of the reported cases, Syrian soldiers swept through the northern village of Ayn Larouz and captured 34 residents, including a 52-year-old woman and her 9-year-old daughter, threatening to kill them unless four defectors suspected to be in hiding there were turned in. The burnt corpses of four detainees, three of them teenagers, were discovered days later by residents, according to the 25-page report released yesterday by the New York-based group.
Assad has so far withstood international and regional sanctions levied against his country and family.
After agreeing on April 2 to withdraw forces from flashpoints across the country, his government said on April 8 that it wouldn’t do so without written guarantees from rebels it labels as “armed terrorist groups.”
That leaves Annan, who has pronounced the escalation of violence “unacceptable,” in a tough spot. Under his plan, all hostilities were to end by 6 a.m. Damascus time on April 12.