Pro-government militia accused of killing civilians – some of them children – in area recaptured from rebels
Syrian pro-government gunmen have killed at least 16 people, including some children, in an area recaptured from rebels, according to opposition activists.
State media in Damascus, which often ignores activists’ claims, confirmed the killings in Homs but blamed “armed terrorists”, as it frequently calls those behind the year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
At the UN, the US and Russia clashed after the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, appealed to the divided security council to speak with one voice and help Syria “pull back from the brink of a deeper catastrophe”.
Washington and Moscow both called for an end to the bloody conflict – but on different terms, leaving prospects for UN action in doubt.
The reports on Monday of killings in the battered city of Homs added to concerns that the hundreds of civilian deaths caused by the fighting would be compounded by reprisals against opposition supporters in recaptured towns and neighbourhoods.
Fresh from stamping out rebel centres of resistance in Homs, government forces are pressing on with offensives in other parts of central and northern Syria.
The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, called for immediate Arab and international military intervention, including setting up safe corridors for humanitarian aid and a no-fly zone to protect civilians.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 people were killed Sunday night in Homs, while the Local Co-ordination Committees said 45 were killed. Both groups said children were among the dead.
They accused shabiha gunmen – akin to a militia that does the government’s bidding and who have played a major role in trying to crush uprising – of carrying out the killing.
Homs is the Syrian city hardest hit by violence since the uprising began in March last year. Several districts in Homs, including Karm el-Zeytoun, where Sunday’s deaths occurred, were controlled by rebels and retaken by government forces earlier this month.
The Observatory said after the killings, many people fled Karm el-Zeytoun and other nearby neighbourhoods, fearing pro-government gunmen might carry out more reprisals.
Pictures posted online by activists showed the bodies of five children who were disfigured after being apparently hit with sharp objects. At least six dead adults were shown covered with sheets.
An amateur video posted online showed men wrapping the bodies of the dead with white cloth, in accordance with Muslim tradition, before burial.
“This is what they do to us, the Sunnis. The Sunnis are being wiped out. They are the ones who are dying at the hands of Iran and the Shias,” shouted a man in the background. Iran is one of the Assad regime’s few remaining allies. The authenticity of the videos could not be independently confirmed.
Another video aired on state-run Syrian TV showed bodies in three different places in Karm el-Zeytoun.
The first was of a family killed inside their home, showing a dead man on what appeared to be a sofa with children next to him. The other was of three handcuffed men on a street, while the third was in a building under construction, where five bodies were lying on the ground.
It was not clear if the family shown on state TV was the same one that activists posted in their picture.
The Syrian government accused armed groups in Homs of kidnapping people, then killing and disfiguring them to bring international condemnation onto the regime.
Assad’s government attributes the uprising to armed groups and terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy.
Activists put the blame for the killing on the government. The Observatory called on the UN to investigate the deaths.
All this is adding pressure on security council members, who are meeting to decide what to do next to stop the violence. A peacemaking mission by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan faltered, with both government and opposition rejecting talks.
A private meeting on Monday between the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and trhe Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was likely to focus on the two countries’ serious differences over how to address the violence in Syria. The UN estimates more than 7,500 people have died since the uprising began.
The two clashed at the UN ahead of the meeting. Clinton rejected any equivalence between rebel actions and the “premeditated murders” carried by Assad’s “military machine.” Lavrov said Syrian authorities “bear a huge share of responsibility,” but he insisted opposition fighters and extremists, including al-Qaida, are also committing violent acts.
Annan, speaking on Monday in Turkey, urged the world to send a clear message to Damascus in the face of “grave and appalling reports of atrocities.”
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