Iranian Pilgrims Kidnapped in Syria; Aleppo Fight Grows

UN Passes Symbolic Syria Measure as Ban Evokes Past Genocides
In his speech, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon evoked memories of two 1990s tragedies the UN failed to prevent in Bosnia and Rwanda. Photographer: Don Emmert/AFP via GettyImages

Forty-eight Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped by gunmen near the Syrian capital, Damascus, yesterday, as the Syrian government intensified a battle for control of Aleppo, the largest city, Al Jazeera reported.

A report by the Iranian news service Fars that the pilgrims were released wasn’t correct, the BBC said, citing the official Islamic Republic News Agency. IRNA put the number of pilgrims at 47. None of the reports could be independently verified.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the Syrian conflict a “catastrophe.” Aleppo is the epicenter of “a vicious battle,” and “the acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity,” Ban told the UN General Assembly Aug. 3.

“What is especially tragic about Syria is that this catastrophe was avoidable,” and now “dire predictions have come to pass,” Ban said.

The international community has been unable to prevent a peaceful revolt in Syria for the past 17 months from turning into a civil war. Syrian forces killed 127 people yesterday, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The government shelled Aleppo and Damascus and clashed with rebels around the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.

Helicopter Gunships

The Syrian military was using artillery and helicopter gunships to attack rebels in Aleppo, with clashes reported around the city’s television and radio stations, Al-Jazeera reported. Rebels seized six new neighborhoods in Aleppo, Al Jazeera said.

In the UN General Assembly, more than two-thirds of the 193-member nations voted Aug. 3 in favor of a non-binding resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violence against civilians and the Security Council’s inability to stop it. There were 133 votes in favor, 12 against and 31 abstentions. Russia, which has used its veto three times to protect Assad in the Security Council, was among the nations that voted against the measure.

Passages demanding that Assad step down and calling on states to apply economic sanctions were removed from the resolution to garner the majority needed to highlight the isolation of Assad and the allies who have shielded him.

Lost Legitimacy

Even so, the resolution affirmed that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy, though the Security Council is still being held hostage by the Russian veto, Abdulbaset Seida, chief of the opposition Syrian National Council, told a press conference in the Iraqi city of Erbil, according to Al Jazeera.

With European Union sanctions and U.S. restrictions taking their toll on the Syrian economy, Assad has been left to rely on friends such as Iran and Russia.

Syria is asking Russia to provide crude and oil products to offset the loss of shipments from its traditional suppliers, Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said yesterday. The two countries agreed to search for a solution to Syria’s oil shortage, with Russia intending to provide aid, according to Jamil, who oversees economic affairs in Syria.

The U.S. State and Defense departments have begun planning for Assad’s fall, the New York Times reported, citing unidentified Obama administration officials. The U.S. is preparing for humanitarian relief for the country and is pressing opposition forces in Syria not to retaliate against army, police and municipal arms of Assad’s government, the newspaper reported.

China, which last month vetoed a proposed UN resolution threatening sanctions on the Syrian government, said yesterday events in the country should be resolved through political means.

“External powers should not impose any solutions on Syria” because Syria’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people themselves, the state-run Xinhua News Agency cited Wang Kejian, the deputy director of the West Asia and North Africa Department with China’s Foreign Ministry, as saying.

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