Tuesday 6 March 2012

March 6, 2012 by  
Filed under News, Syrian Revolution

Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre:SUMMARY (06/03/2012): At least 40 martyrs were reported today, including 2 families slaughtered by Assad’s militiamen in Baba Amru yesterday. At least 12 martyrs fell in Daraa province, where the town of Herak came under heavy attack following several days of siege – a father and his 3 sons and a 15 year old were among the martyrs there. Meanwhile, Homs, Rastan, Ma’aret Nu’man all continue to be shelled. See the map for more info. Syria – Tuesday 06/03/2012

DAMASCUS (06/03/2012): Protest this evening in Abbasiyeen Square, one of the main squares in Damascus. Last spring protesters tried several times to enter this square in large numbers and every time they were beaten back by tear gas and bullets fired by Assad’s forces. Tonight they made it, chanting “Muslims and Christians, we want freedom.” :-)

 Damascus 06/03/2012

Channel 4: Syrian doctors ‘torturing’ patients + video

A Syrian employee at the Military Hospital in Homs has provided video evidence that medics are torturing patients, writes Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller.

Chilling video images, covertly filmed by an employee at the hospital, who risked his life to bring to world attention the plight of what he claims are civilian patients there, were broadcast on Channel 4 News on Monday 5 March.

It is the first time such video evidence has emerged. Medical and human rights experts consider the intentional infliction of pain by doctors within the confines of a hospital to be the ultimate desecration of human rights and “a gross breach of medical ethics”.

The grainy footage depicts wards full of wounded men, blindfolded and shackled to their beds. Some bear marks of extreme beating. The apparent instruments of torture – a rubber whip and electrical cable – lie openly on a table in one of the hospital wards (pictured below).

On the orders of the Syrian government, all of those shot or injured in protests in Homs must be brought to the Military Hospital for treatment.

But wounded people should never expect this sort of “treatment”: the hospital employee, claims many are whipped and beaten in their beds – and worse.

The grim evidence of serious abuse begs a question as to where the hundreds of injured civilians from the Homs district of Baba Amr will be taken once the Red Cross finally negotiates for their evacuation.

The employee says he attempted several times to stop what he called “the shameful things” that were happening in the military hospital but was branded a “traitor”. He was interviewed in a safe location.

“I have seen detainees being tortured by electrocution, whipping, beating with batons, and by breaking their legs. They twist the feet until the leg breaks,” he told “Mani”, a French photojournalist, who himself risked his life, smuggling the covert footage out of Syria.

“They perform operations without anaesthetics,” the hospital employee told him.

“I saw them slamming detainees’ heads against walls. They shackle the patients to beds. They deny them water. Others have their penises tied to stop them from urinating.”

The employee says he witnessed abuse by civilian and military surgeons at the hospital and by other medical staff, including male nurses. He has provided the names of all those he claims worked hand-in-glove with Syrian soldiers and the feared mukhabarat secret police.

Sometimes, he says, he heard patients screaming while being kicked or beaten. The abuse took place, he claims, in the hospital’s ambulance section, its prison wards, the X-ray department and even, perversely, in the Intensive Care Unit.

“Sometimes they have to amputate limbs and they go gangrenous because they don’t prescribe anti-biotics,” the hospital employee said.

The footage, filmed at Homs Military Hospital within the past three months, confirms what Syrian victims of such treatment have long claimed, but the Syrian regime has forcefully denied.

When the allegations that state-run hospitals had been turned into torture chambers first began to surface late last year, I was in Damascus. At the Tishreen Military Hospital, just north of the capital, I put the allegations to its director, General Faysal Hassan, who insisted that wounded insurgents and injured civilian protestors are accorded the same level of care as any other patient.

“If a terrorist comes injured, we give him every treatment,” the General said. “And armed civilians.”

“So what is your reaction to allegations that military doctors are refusing to treat injured protestors and are even doing worse – are involved in acts of torture?” I asked.

“This is untrue,” he said. After which, he denied that Syrian army tanks would ever fire into civilian neighbourhoods.

As recently as this weekend, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said he was receiving “grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture” from Homs.

The UN human rights commissioner has already recommended to the Security Council that the Syrian regime be referred to the International Criminal Court, based on evidence that she says constitutes crimes against humanity – including acts of torture.

Cilina Nasser, author of an Amnesty International human rights report on mistreatment and torture in Syrian military and state-run hospitals – including the Military Hospital in Homs – was amazed that anyone was brave enough to risk their lives to film in the torture wards.

“This is the first time we have video evidence to corroborate these claims,” she said.

Many detainees’ names were removed from emergency admissions lists so that no one would know where they were. One of the doctors poured alcohol on the pubic hair area of a 15-year-old boy, then set him on fire.

“The new evidence is horrific. Hospitals should be safe places for anyone who needs medical attention and treatment, but it seems that wounded people in Syria have no safe place to go.”

“Mani”, the French photojournalist, who smuggled the footage out of Homs, where he spent most of January and February, said: “Ordinary Syrians now consider it too dangerous to go to state-run hospitals if they’re injured.

“I met a 15-year-old boy who had been shot in the leg by a sniper. His father told me he was too afraid to bring his son to hospital. Even though he was in danger of losing his leg, the boy was treated in his own home by a nurse.”

“Mani” described the hospital employee, as utterly distraught by what he had witnessed in the Military Hospital. “He wept as he talked to me about the torture and the fact that he was powerless to prevent it.”

He told “Mani” that the medical situation in many districts in Homs was now “extremely desperate.”

In the interview, the employee claimed that while some of the victims in Homs Military Hospital are soldiers who had refused to follow orders, most were civilians. Some, he said, had nothing to do with anti-regime demonstrations; others had been injured when their neighbourhoods were attacked.

Many of the injured, he said, were kept alive just so that they could be interrogated. Others were admitted to the hospital simply to revive them between torture sessions.

“Some of the detainees used to be taken from the hospital to the prison,” he said. “They’d bring them back either dead or with a brain haemhorrage.”

“The youngest I saw was 14 or 15 years old,” the employee said. “Many detainees’ names were removed from emergency admissions lists so that no one would know where they were. There were no names. Just numbers. One of the doctors poured alcohol on the pubic hair area of a 15-year-old boy, then set him on fire.”

The employee insisted that there were what he called some “decent doctors”, who refused to participate in the abuse of patients, but, he said, they were under constant and close surveillance.

UPDATE (06/03/2012): 11 martyrs have been reported so far today – 4 of them under torture. The video shows Herak, a town of 20,000 people in Daraa province. It has been besieged several times, including in recent days. Today it is under attack from 4 directions. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque has been damaged in the shelling and a 15 year old is reported martyred, shot and killed by Assad’s forces.
 Herak, Daraa province 06/03/2012

NOW! Lebanon
[local time]
 21:10 The five major UN powers held talks Tuesday on a new attempt to pass a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the Syrian government’s deadly attacks on protesters.
 20:50 Possible military intervention against the regime in Syria would be “extremely challenging” given the country’s advanced air defenses and the presence of Al-Qaeda extremists, a top US general said Tuesday.
 20:36 US President Barack Obama Tuesday described the violence in Syria as “heartbreaking,” but cautioned there was no simple solution and warned that unilateral military action would be a mistake.
 19:57 Around 800 Syrian families have been displaced to an area near the Syrian-Lebanese border because of the assault on Homs, but are in fear of crossing over into Lebanon, AFP reported.
 19:09 Spain suspended its diplomatic activities in Syria, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, amid a bloody crackdown on demonstrators by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
 19:03 Syrian security forces killed 41 people on Tuesday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 18:59 Syria called on international media companies on Tuesday not to send reporters to the country illegally, saying it had allowed more than 200 media delegations to visit areas hit by the conflict.
 18:04 Russia on Tuesday warned the West that it was “wishful thinking” to expect Moscow to change its stance on the Syria crisis following Vladimir Putin’s presidential election victory.
 17:06 A number of casualties were reported in the town of Maarat an-Naaman which is subject to heavy shelling, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Tuesday.
 17:03 At least six people were killed, including a young girl, as Syrian forces on Tuesday launched a major assault on Harak, a town in the southern province of Daraa, a monitoring group said.
 16:10 Secretly filmed footage shown by a British TV station shows what the report said was evidence of patients being tortured in a military hospital in Homs.
 16:06 Syrian authorities said on Tuesday they had seized what appeared to be an “Israeli-like reconnaissance plane” in an arms factory in the Baba Amr area of Homs, the official SANA news agency reported.
 15:41 Syria is determined to press on with reforms and to fight “terrorism,” President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling a one-year uprising against his regime, said on Tuesday.
 15:19 Syrian state media on Tuesday lashed out at Washington for slapping sanctions on a key official broadcasting network, saying the US move constituted a “violation” of press freedom.
 15:37 France is to close its Damascus embassy on Tuesday, the French Foreign Ministry said, after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the move to protest the Syrian regime’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators.
 15:16 Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel Karim Ali said that it is in the interest of the Syrian people to cooperate with their country’s security forces, the National News Agency reported on Tuesday.
 14:38 The Syrian regime will collapse before the end of the year, Britain’s ambassador to Damascus predicted in an interview published Tuesday.
 14:36 Two families, including four children were killed in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying on Tuesday.
 14:35 With the Russian presidential elections over, Moscow should turn its attention to joining international efforts to stem the violence in Syria, EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday.
 14:26 Twenty-one people were killed by Syrian security forces on Tuesday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 13:51 Syrian forces on Tuesday bombed a bridge used to evacuate the wounded and refugees to Lebanon from the central flashpoint province of Homs, cutting off a key escape route, a monitoring group said.
 12:54 More than 1,500 Syrians, mainly women and children, have crossed into Lebanon in recent days, fleeing the violence in the central flashpoint province of Homs, UN and local officials said Tuesday.
 12:05 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on neighboring Syria on Tuesday to allow the immediate opening of humanitarian aid corridors.
 11:02 Four people were killed by security forces’ gunfire in the Edleb town of Maarat al-Naaman and in Daraa, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
 10:00 Russia believes that a new UN Security Council resolution on Syria reportedly being drafted by the United States is not balanced, the country’s deputy foreign minister said.
 8:25 Former UN chief Kofi Annan will on Wednesday launch a diplomatic “mission impossible” aiming to convince Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to silence the guns blamed for thousands of deaths in the past year.
 8:21 LEADER: Syrian forces on Monday bombarded the city of Rastan for a second day running, monitors said, as ex-UN chief Kofi Annan and other world envoys prepared a diplomatic drive to end the year-long bloodshed.

Reuters: Obama: Syria’s Assad “will fall,” but no air strikes

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday it was only a matter of time before Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad left office, but added it was a mistake to think the U.S. could take unilateral action there.

“Ultimately this dictator will fall,” Obama said at a news conference, adding that it was not a question of if but when Assad would be forced out.

But he squarely opposed a call by U.S. Senator John McCain who on Monday urged U.S. air strikes on Assad’s forces.

McCain, an influential Republican who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said the United States should lead an international effort to protect Syrian cities and towns.

Obama said it was a mistake to think there was a simple solution to the now year-long crackdown on the opposition in Syria, or that the United States could act unilaterally.

Obama’s comments came as Assad faced growing Western anger for preventing aid from entering a devastated district of Homs and over accusations of human rights abuses, including pictures said to show torture victims at a hospital in the city.

Dozens of men, women and children returned on foot to Baba Amr, state television said, passing bullet-pocked and damaged buildings, days after rebel fighters pulled out after a sustained and heavy military assault.

The Red Cross was awaiting approval to distribute aid to the devastated district which endured a month of siege.

Residents who fled the district spoke of bodies decomposing under rubble, sewage mixing with litter in the streets, and a campaign of arrests and executions.

“The smell of death was everywhere. We could smell the bodies buried under the rubble all the time,” said Ahmad, who escaped to Lebanon. “We saw so much death that at the end the sight of a dismembered body … stopped moving us.”

Despite their chorus of outrage as Homs residents gave more detailed accounts of the siege of Baba Amr, Western leaders have ruled out a Libya-style military intervention in Syria, fearing it could trigger wider conflict in the Middle East.

The White House said on Tuesday that Obama was committed to diplomatic efforts to end the violence, saying Washington sought to isolate Assad, cut off his sources of revenue and encourage unity among his opponents.

But calls for action to protect civilians have grown louder as the Alawite-led security apparatus cracked down on protests and an uprising that has its roots in the majority Sunni community and which has raised the prospect of a civil war.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a former ally of Assad’s, said the violence in Syria had “started to resemble an inhumane savagery in recent days,” calling for a humanitarian corridor to be established in Syria to help civilians.

GUNFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS

In Homs, activists said security forces were carrying out raids in a district next to Baba Amr on Tuesday, and reported gunfire and explosions in another area.

In Herak, in Deraa province where the revolt erupted nearly a year ago, residents said armoured vehicles and tanks had massed on the western fringe of the city and in parts of the centre. There were raids reported in the city of Deir al-Zor.

A Chinese diplomat arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to outline Beijing’s peace plan, while U.N. envoys Kofi Annan and Valerie Amos are expected in the Syrian capital this week.

The United Nations says more than 7,500 civilians have died in Syria’s bloody crackdown on protests against Assad’s government, which says the nearly year-long uprising is a campaign by foreign-backed Islamist insurgents.

Authorities said in December 2,000 police and soldiers had been killed since protests, inspired by Arab uprisings which have overthrown four veteran leaders, erupted last March.

Secretly shot video footage aired on Monday by a British television station showed what it said were Syrian patients tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs.

The video, which Channel 4 said it could not independently verify, showed wounded, blindfolded men chained to beds. A rubber whip and electrical cable lay on a table in one ward. Patients showed what looked like signs of severe beatings.

Channel 4 said the footage was filmed covertly by an employee at the Homs military hospital and smuggled out by a French photo-journalist identified only as “Mani.”

The United Nations said it has similar footage, and the clips shown by the British station appear to support increasingly grave allegations pointing to crimes against humanity, the U.N. torture investigator said.

Juan Mendez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture worldwide, said that while he had not seen the Channel 4 video, it seemed in line with recent reports he has received on Syrian forces torturing opponents.

“Unfortunately this new allegation is consistent with what my mandate (office) has been receiving over the last several months. The new allegation only adds to the gravity of the situation,” Mendez told Reuters in Geneva.

THE END WAS NEAR

It was not immediately clear whether U.N. humanitarian affairs chief Amos would have the unhindered access she has been demanding. Several Western diplomats told Reuters privately they were concerned Damascus appeared to have waited until it had “finished the job” of punishing Homs before allowing Amos in.

Residents of Baba Amr said they knew the end was near when the army blew up a 3-km (2-mile) tunnel they had used to smuggle in essentials keeping them alive.

Syrian state television showed pictures of rocket-propelled grenades and guns laid out on the street, weapons the presenter said belonged to “armed terrorists.”

“This is the tunnel used by the terrorists to get weapons inand out,” the presenter said, standing in a school building next to a 2-m (10-foot) hole in the ground.

A man who fled Baba Amr a day after the army went in said soldiers raided houses, arresting men and executed some of them. Activists say at least 60 men were executed since Friday.

“They are cleansing the neighbourhood, they are robbing houses, arresting people then executing some. Baba Amr is besieged from all sides. It is a disaster,” said Omar, speaking by telephone from inside Homs after he fled Baba Amr.

“They said they have a list of 1,500 men and they want them all … They are shooting everything that is moving, even animals,” he said with a trembling voice.

(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Syrian torture increasingly serious, U.N. investigator

A video aired by a British television station purporting to show Syrian patients being tortured in hospital appears to support increasingly grave allegations pointing to crimes against humanity, the U.N. torture investigator said on Tuesday.

Juan Mendez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture worldwide, said that while he had not seen the Channel 4 video, it seemed in line with recent reports he has received on Syrian forces torturing opponents.

“Unfortunately this new allegation is consistent with what my mandate (office) has been receiving over the last several months. The new allegation only adds to the gravity of the situation,” Mendez told Reuters in Geneva.

The secretly shot video, which Channel 4 aired on Monday, showed what it said were Syrian patients being tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs.

Wounded, blindfolded men were chained to beds. A rubber whip and electrical cable lay on a table in one of the wards. Some patients showed signs of having been severely beaten.

Channel 4 said it could not independently verify the video.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced growing Western anger on Tuesday for preventing aid from entering a devastated district of Homs and over accusations of human rights abuses, including pictures said to show torture victims at a hospital in the city.

Mendez, a U.S.-based law professor from Argentina who himself suffered torture while jailed by the military dictatorship in the 1970s, took up the independent U.N. post in October 2010 and reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

He noted that already last year he had denounced Syria’s use of excessive force against demonstrators, “people being beaten so badly in the streets that it amounted to cruel treatment and in some cases torture.”

Mendez said that since then he has received further credible allegations of inmates being tortured in detention centres.

“But all of it seems to be increasing in gravity,” he said.

CALL FOR ICC TO INVESTIGATE

“With respect of torture, as grave as the allegations were six to eight months ago, this latest seems a step or two above that. I endorse the call by the High Commissioner to have the International Criminal Court investigate whether these amount to crimes against humanity,” he said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, a former ICC judge, repeatedly has urged the Security Council to refer Syria to the Hague-based ICC prosecutor for investigation.

“I think that the Security Council has a responsibility to protect the Syrian people from these very serious crimes. One way to do it would be for the ICC to exercise jurisdiction,” said Mendez.

Asked about chances of the Security Council taking up the issue, given vetoes by China and Russia of Western-backed resolutions condemning Assad over a crackdown and supporting a call for his exit from to power, he said:

“Judging by the vote in the Security Council last time around I don’t have very high hopes. But I do think we owe it to the Syrian people to ask all five permanent members to exercise their responsibility to protect the Syrian people’s right to be free of torture and crimes against humanity,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said that the United Nations has footage similar to the video aired by Channel 4 television.

“It may even be the same footage which was sent to the commission of inquiry on Syria,” he told a news briefing.

“The pictures are truly shocking.”

Colville said independent investigators reporting to the U.N. rights forum had received similar images and testimony.

This had been used in their February 23 report that accused Syrian forces of committing crimes against humanity, including torture.

The first report by the U.N. commission of inquiry last November documented cases of injured people taken to military hospitals where they were beaten and tortured in interrogations.

“Torture and killings reportedly took place in the Homs military hospital — which is the one shown in the Channel 4 footage — by security forces dressed as doctors and allegedly acting with the complicity of medical personnel,” Colville said.

The U.N. inquiry documented evidence that sections of Homs military hospital and Latakia state hospital were “transformed into torture centres actually within the hospitals,” he said.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

Guardian: 

Syrian troops shell village in assault on army defectors:  Boy and five government soldiers reported killed in clashes at Hirak in Daraa province

Syria refuses to allow aid into Homs: 6 Mar 2012: President says he will carry on fighting ‘foreign-backed terrorism’ as evidence of human rights abuses mounts

Syria: atrocities recalled by those fleeing Homs: Follow live updates as horrific accounts of violence are given by those fleeing Homs and other besieged neighbourhoods

CNN: Opposition: 39 killed in Syria as regime attacks escape route to Lebanon

At least 39 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday as government forces took aim at citizens across the country, opposition activists said.

The deaths included 23 people in the opposition stronghold of Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.

Also in Homs, the Syrian military targeted a bridge on the Orontes River near the Lebanese border that was used as a crossing by wounded civilians, dissidents and refugees fleeing to Lebanon, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition group.

As many as 2,000 Syrians have crossed from Homs province into Lebanon since Sunday, according to Dana Suleiman, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Beirut.

Eight wounded Syrian men crossed into the Lebanese village of El Qaa from Syria on Tuesday, according to a Lebanese Red Cross official. They were taken to hospitals in northern Lebanon by the Red Cross; one of the Syrians died, said the official, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media

Most of the wounded refugees who entered Lebanon did so via informal border crossings into the Bekaa Valley to avoid Syrian border authorities, said the official, who added that the total number was not known.

Refugees also fled the northern Syria city of Idlib after a threat of government shelling, according to the Binnish Coordination Committee local opposition group. The Syrian regime had threatened to shell the city of Idlib if Free Syrian Army opposition fighters there did not hand over their weapons, the group said.

Binnish was among the towns where demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were taking place Tuesday, the Binnish Coordination Committee said.

Among those killed in Homs on Tuesday were 13 people from two families, who died in what the Local Coordination Committees called “a new massacre” in the countryside near the city’s hard-hit Baba Amr neighborhood at the hands of security forces and armed gangs.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Tuesday that some families who had fled “armed terrorist groups” in Baba Amr returned home Monday.

Authorities have restored “stability and security” to the neighborhood, SANA said. Public workers were cleaning, performing maintenance tasks, opening roads “and removing the debris left by the terrorists.”

Authorities found a weapons factory and equipment, including “an Israeli-like reconnaissance plane” in the neighborhood, believed to have been used by the terrorist groups, the agency said.

Baba Amr endured nearly a month of shelling before rebel forces announced a “tactical retreat” Thursday. An opposition activist reported arrests, rapes and torture after al-Assad’s forces moved in.

The regime has sent reinforcements into the city of Homs, the opposition group Avaaz reported Tuesday.

“Several planes have been spotted over Homs, and residents told Avaaz there is widespread fear that regime forces will start shelling Khaldiya, another staunchly anti-Assad neighborhood, akin to the month-long attack on Baba Amr,” the group said in a statement.

Homs residents were afraid to leave their homes, as snipers were posted across the city, Avaaz said.

Spain suspended Tuesday activities at its embassy in Damascus. Other countries, including the United States and France, have closed their Syrian embassies.

As the death toll climbs from the nearly year-long government onslaught, the U.S. military’s top commander in the Middle East told lawmakers Tuesday that he believes the violence in Syria will worsen.

Al-Assad’s forces remain viable, Gen. James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“He will continue to employ heavier and heavier weapons on his people,” Mattis said. “I think it will get worse before it gets better.”

Mattis predicted that al-Assad will retain power “for some time.”

Also Tuesday, preliminary discussions began among the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Morocco “about whether there is any possibility of reaching agreement around a potential text that would demand an end to the violence in Syria and demand immediate humanitarian access,” said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the world body. “These discussions are just beginning and will continue. If and when it seems there is a basis for a meaningful and viable text, we will propose one to the full Security Council.”

Western diplomats said the goal is to bring the Russians and Chinese into the fold by creating a less harsh version of the last resolution, which the two countries vetoed, that would emphasize the humanitarian situation. They said they want the Russians and Chinese to join the call for a “permissive environment” for humanitarian access.

However, the United States and its allies insist the resolution puts the onus on the regime to stop the violence and will not give up on that issue. This is a nonstarter for the Russians and Chinese, who want any resolution to reflect that armed opposition rebels also bear responsibility.

On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov posted a message on his Twitter page saying the latest version of a draft resolution doesn’t pass his muster.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Tuesday for the opening of a humanitarian aid corridor to Syria. In his televised weekly party parliamentary group meeting, he also called for the implementation of an Arab League plan that calls for al-Assad to step down and demands an immediate end to human rights violations and attacks against civilians. The U.N. General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution last month endorsing the plan.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called Monday for the United States to lead an international effort to protect the Syrian population via piloted airstrikes on regime forces.

The Syrian American Council, an organization for Syrians living in the United States, issued a statement supporting McCain’s call. SAC Chairman Mahmoud Khattab said airstrikes would amplify the capabilities of the Free Syria Army, a group primarily made up of Syrian army defectors fighting against the regime.

“It took Assad’s well-equipped army 27 days of full-scale assault on the Baba Amr district of Homs, which indicates the effectiveness of the FSA and the exhaustion of the Syrian Army,” Khattab said in a statement. “Providing military support for the army defectors will further weaken Assad’s forces and help topple the regime.”

But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was noncommittal.

“The secretary is interested in exploring options that could help end the brutal violence in Syria, but he also recognizes that this is an extremely complex crisis,” a senior Pentagon official said. “Intervention at this time could very well exacerbate problems inside the country.”

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that he doesn’t share McCain’s view. “Until there’s clear direction on what’s happening there, involving ourselves at this point in time would be premature,” he said.

While officials in the West and elsewhere discussed the crisis from afar, more carnage mounted across Syria.

The Syrian regime consistently has blamed the violence on “armed terrorist groups” and portrayed its forces as trying to protect the public interest and security. The Syrian government says that more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed in the violence, including 12 “martyrs” it said were buried Monday.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports across Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists. But the vast majority of reports out of Syria indicate al-Assad’s forces are slaughtering civilians in opposition hotbeds in an attempt to wipe out dissidents.

The United Nations says that at least 7,500 people have died in the crackdown, while opposition activists put the toll at more than 9,000.

For months, diplomatic efforts have failed to stop the bloodshed. But international leaders haven’t given up on diplomacy.

Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, is slated to arrive Wednesday in Damascus for a two-day visit. “My aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies,” Amos said in a statement.

She will meet with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and “will pay visits to some areas in Syria,” SANA reported.

Amos was denied access last week by the government, which said it was not a “suitable time” to visit, Syrian state-run TV reported.

And Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who is now special joint envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, will fly Saturday to Damascus, an Arab League official said. He will be accompanied by his deputy, former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa. Their goal will be to persuade al-Assad to stop the killing, the official said.

Meanwhile, almost two weeks after she was killed by a rocket attack in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, the body of American journalist Marie Colvin is expected to arrive Tuesday in the United States, the U.S. Embassy in Paris said.

CNN’s Elise Labott, Kareem Khadder, Nic Robertson, Saad Abedine, Rebecca Stewart, Jennifer Rizzo and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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