Syrian Forces Battle Rebels as Arab League Seeks UN Action

Fighting raged across Syria between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to overthrow the government as the Arab League called for more action to end the 17 months of conflict.

Government forces stormed neighborhoods in Deraa and used helicopters and heavy artillery in Deir al-Zour in the east of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement. Heavy fighting involving mortars and artillery also erupted in central Damascus late today, it said. Al Jazeera television said Syrian forces sealed off road to the airport in the capital.

The international community has failed to put an end to the conflict, which the opposition says has left more than 17,000 Syrians dead. The United Nations should use Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to restore peace in Syria, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi said in Addis Ababa.

“It has become unacceptable not to take the necessary steps to end the bloodshed in Syria,” el-Arabi said today during a two-day African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital.

Forces also used artillery in Hama, the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said on its website today. Syrian forces killed 46 people across the country, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists.

Council Vote

The UN Security Council will vote July 18 in New York on a Western-drafted resolution threatening Assad with measures such as sanctions. The three-month mandate for the UN’s Syrian mission expires on July 20. Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said today in Damascus that a plan by UN special envoy Kofi Annan to end the violence was in the country’s interest.

Syria’s military is “cleansing” cities in the country and the army operation in Tremseh was “genocide,” el-Arabi said.

The Syria government offered a different version of events in Tremseh. The military started the operation because the place was being used as a terrorist command center, Makdissi said. The air force and tanks weren’t used and the operation killed two civilians, he said.

A UN peacekeeping team arrived in Tremseh on July 13 after learning there was a cease-fire. UN observers reported that the attack appeared to target specific groups, mainly army defectors and activists. The UN Supervision Mission in Syria said the observers found pools and splatters of blood in several homes, as well as a burned school and damaged houses. It couldn’t determine the number of casualties and plans to return to the village today.

The opposition Syrian National Council said as many as 305 people were killed in the assault on the Sunni Muslim village, some as they tried to flee the town. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates more than 150 people died when government forces stormed the village.

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