Six Syrian soldiers were killed and another 26 were buried with official ceremonies, as attacks by rebels across the country increased the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s army.
The soldiers died in Deir Al-Zour in the country’s eastern oil-producing region, and rebel fighters also attacked a checkpoint in the village of Qusair in Homs, causing several casualties, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement today. Four security personnel died when an explosive device hit their vehicle in Idlib in the north, while army helicopters attacked rebels in the city of al-Rastan, the group said.
“The government is using helicopters more often now because of major losses to its tanks,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a phone interview from the U.K. today.
Syrian government forces have failed to crush a 15-month revolt in a crackdown that has left more than 10,000 dead, according to United Nations estimates. President Bashar al-Assad, 46, is fighting to extend his family’s four-decade hold on power. While more than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni, Assad and the ruling elite are in a minority, belonging to an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam that predominates in Iran.
Syrian security forces killed 52 people today, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists. Twenty six army personnel were buried today, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported, while the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, said on its website that 53 people were killed by security forces yesterday.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, is “gravely concerned” by the latest reports of violence coming out of the country and the escalation of fighting by both government and opposition forces. The cease-fire he brokered in April has failed to stop the bloodshed.
Annan is “particularly worried about the recent shelling in Homs as well as reports of the use of mortar, helicopters and tanks in the town of Al-Haffa, Lattakia,” the UN said in an e-mailed statement from Geneva today. “There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns.”
Heavy Weapons Supplied
UN military observers should be allowed into Al-Haffa immediately and all parties should take steps to ensure that civilians aren’t harmed, Annan said, according to the statement. He warned at the UN on June 7 that Syria was headed toward a future of “brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war.”
Heavy weapons are entering Syria through its borders with Lebanon and Turkey, Syrian ambassador in Moscow, Riad Haddad, said in an interview on June 1. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ruled by Sunni monarchies that are at odds with Syria’s mainly Shiite ally, Iran, have publicly voiced support for arming the rebels.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on June 9 that there was an “urgent” need for an international conference, which Iran could attend, to pressure both sides of the conflict. The international community remains reluctant to use force, and Russia and China have opposed harsher sanctions against Syria at the UN Security Council.
Lavrov is scheduled to visit Iran on June 13 to discuss the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, “current transformational processes in the Arab world and the state of affairs in Syria,” the foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement today.
‘More Like Bosnia’
“It is looking more like Bosnia in the 1990s, being on the edge of a sectarian conflict in which neighboring villages are attacking and killing each other,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview with Sky News yesterday. “It is not so much like Libya last year, where of course we had a successful intervention to save lives.”
Russia has cited the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military intervention in Libya as an example of what it sees as the abuse of UN resolutions to bring about a change of government. Assad has repeatedly blamed the violence on terrorists and foreign forces seeking to undermine the state.
In the 1990s, U.S., British and French forces ultimately intervened to end conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, scene of the greatest carnage in the Balkan wars of that decade. The bloodshed in Bosnia was the worst in Europe since World War II and included the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.