United Nations and U.S. diplomats highlighted the risk of renewed civilian massacres in Syria, as security forces stepped up attacks and a UN report charged them with killing and abusing children.
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria said yesterday it is concerned about the escalation of violence in Homs, an opposition stronghold, with reports of artillery shelling and fire from helicopters. The mission received reports of a large number of civilians trapped in the town, including women and children, and is trying to negotiate their release.
A UN report condemned violence against children by Syrian security forces and pro-government militias. It said children as young as nine have been killed, injured, tortured and used as human shields during the conflict, while schools have been used as military bases and detention centers.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have failed to crush a 15-month revolt in a crackdown that has left more than 10,000 dead, according to UN estimates. A cease-fire brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan in April failed to stop the bloodshed.
Eleven people were killed when the army shelled a demonstration in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria said in an e-mailed statement today. One fatality was reported from army fire in Homs, and one in Hama, the group said. Syrian security forces have killed at least 27 today, including four children, Al Jazeera television reported.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed “deep alarm” about reports of intensifying violence against civilians. Annan is “gravely concerned” by the latest reports of violence, especially by “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.
UN observers in Syria “are assessing the situation and so far they deem it unsafe to enter” Al-Haffa, Sausan Ghosheh, a UN spokeswoman in Damascus, said today in an e-mailed response to questions.
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.”
More than 100 people, including dozens of children, were reported killed last week by Syrian forces in Houla, near Homs, spurring the U.S. and several European countries to expel Syrian diplomats.
Heavy weapons are entering Syria through its borders with Lebanon and Turkey, Syria’s ambassador in Moscow, Riad Haddad, said in an interview on June 1. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ruled by Sunni Muslim monarchies that are at odds with Syria’s Shiite ally, Iran, have publicly voiced support for arming the rebels.
While more than 70 percent of Syrians are Sunnis, Assad’s family and many of his senior officials come from the Alawite minority sect, which is affiliated with Shiite Islam.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on June 9 that there was an “urgent” need for an international conference, which Iran should 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, the foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.