Saturday 3 March 2012

Trade unions and social activism: Khalaf Dahowd, member of the National Coordination Body said to BBC Arabic that the unification of the Syrian opposition would be a positive step forward in support of the Syrian Revolution, and any fragmentation caused by the Syrian National Council or other coalitions is damaging to the revolution…

Syrian Uprising 2011 Information CentreSUMMARY (03/03/2012): At least 88 martyrs have fallen today – including more than 40 sodliers reportedly executed at Abu Zahour military airport in Idlib. A bomb exploded in Daraa, killing at least 3 civilians (the usual suspects are being blamed), while the regime is still on the offensive across Syria – in Herak (Daraa), Deir Asafir and Qudsaya near Damascus, Hama and many towns and villages in the countryside, Idlib, Deir Ezzor and of course Homs where the Red Cross has still been unable to enter Baba Amru and several other neighbourhoods are still under attack . See the map for more info. Syria – Saturday 03/03/2012 – Google Maps

British photographer Paul Conroy who was smuggled out of Homs a few days ago at great cost in lives: “This is not a war it’s a massacre. It’s an indiscriminate massacre of men, women and children… In years to come we’re going to sit and we going to go “how did we let this happen under our nose?… somebody please forget the geopolitics, forget the meetings, forget all that and do something. As I’m talking to you now they’re dying… living in bombed out wrecks, children six to a bed, rooms full of people waiting to die.”[Thanks to Saqr for the link]
 Exclusive : Injured Brit Photographer On Homs ‘Massacre’
English Speakers to Help The Syrian Revolution: Extensive video of Baba Amr as as Paul Conroy describes conditions to Anderson Cooper….

 It’s A Slaughterhouse

UN News Centre: Ban underlines need for concerted international effort to end bloodshed in Syria

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today underlined the need for concerted action to end the crisis in Syria, lamenting that the international community has thus far failed in its responsibility to stop the bloodshed in the country, where he said the Government was waging an “atrocious assault” against its own people.

“In fact, the actions – indeed, the inaction — of the international community seems to have encouraged the Syrian authorities in their brutal suppression of its citizens,” Mr. Ban said as he reported to the General Assembly on the implementation of its 16 February resolution on Syria.

That resolution strongly condemned the continued “widespread and systematic” human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and demanded that the Government immediately cease all violence and protect its people.

“Further militarization of the Syrian opposition is not the answer,” Mr. Ban told the Assembly.

“The international community must urgently find unity in pressing the Syrian authorities and all other parties to stop the violence. It must insist, with one voice, that the Syrian authorities give access to international humanitarian workers as an essential first step towards a peaceful solution,” he said.

The Secretary-General said that the newly-appointed Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States for Syria, Kofi Annan, will seek to end the violence and human rights violations, and promote a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Mr. Ban stressed the need to ensure that “there is only one track in the mediation process being undertaken by the international community. The way towards a peaceful solution of the Syrian crisis is difficult but clear,” he said.

“First, there should be an immediate end to the killings and violence. International relief workers must be allowed in. Second, there is a clear need for an inclusive political dialogue among all Syrian actors.

“The international community must align itself with the process led by the Joint Envoy. To succeed, he will need our full and undivided support. It is time for the international community to speak with one voice, loud and clear,” said Mr. Ban, adding that division could embolden the Syrian authorities “in their violent, dead-end path.”

Continued violence, Mr. Ban emphasized, risks plunging Syria into full civil war and sectarian strife that could haunt the country for generations.

“The stakes are high, above all for the people of Syria – but also for the international community. We must act, urgently and in concert,” he said.

He pointed out that disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities had driven what had been largely peaceful opposition forces to resort to take up arms in some cases. The opposition’s firepower, however, appeared to be minimal compared to the heavy weapons being used by the Syrian army, the Secretary-General said.

Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari of Syria repeated his country’s rejection of the General Assembly resolution, saying it did not meet “the minimum requirements of diplomatic activities in the United Nations.”

He said the Syrian Government was not consulted and the drafters of the resolution “openly turned a blind eye to Syria’s reforms and the criminal activities undertaken by armed terrorist groups.”

Mr. Ja’afari said the Syrian opposition has been invited to “participate in authentic national dialogue,” and urged the UN to provide help that is “based on the Charter.”

In a related development, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced alarm today over reports from the Baba Amro district of the Syrian city of Homs after it was taken over by Government forces yesterday, including unconfirmed allegations of 17 summary executions.

“Although we are not, at this point, in a position to confirm any of those reports, we would like to remind the authorities of their responsibilities under international law,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

He warned against reprisals, summary executions, torture and arbitrary detention. “The rights of those who are detained must be respected. Enough crimes have already been committed in Syria over the past year. We urge the authorities to take immediate steps to ensure no more are committed now that they have taken control of Baba Amro,” Mr. Colville added.

NOW! Lebanon
[local time]  21:20 The United Arab Emirates on Saturday defended a decision to expel Syrians who staged a protest against the Damascus regime, saying they had broken a pledge to abide by the country’s laws.
 20:20 China on Sunday called on the Syrian government and other “parties concerned” to cease all acts of violence and seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis, Xinhua reported, citing the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
 19:53 Seven Syrian army soldiers were killed on Saturday by the Free Syrian Army, Al-Jazeera reported.
 19:48 The Syrian army is heavily shelling a number of neighborhoods in Homs, Al-Jazeera reported.
 19:48 The death toll in Syria has risen to 74 people, including 44 soldiers who were executed for attempting to defect, Al-Arabiya reported
 18:39 The Syrian army raided the Daraa town of Kherbet Ghazaleh and is clashing with deserters who joined the Free Syrian Army, activists told Al-Jazeera television.
 18:27 A senior Hamas official in Gaza said on Saturday the Palestinian Islamist movement was not taking sides in the conflict between the regime and the insurgency in Syria.
 18:20 British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Saturday the Syrian regime’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid access to citizens affected by the violence showed how “criminal” it had become.
 18:01 The Free Syrian Army took over a weapon depot belonging to the regime’s army, Al-Jazeera television reported.
 15:51 Syria is committing a crime by refusing aid for civilians affected by months of conflict, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday, calling for an international response.
 15:49 Iraq will take further measures to secure its border with Syria in an effort to prevent weapons smuggling and trafficking, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office said on Saturday.
 15:43 Syrian security forces killed 22 people on Saturday, activists told Al-Arabiya television.
 15:03 The bodies of two Western journalists killed in Syria were handed over to the French ambassador and to a Polish diplomat in Damascus on Saturday, an AFP correspondent reported.
 11:49 A defected Syrian officer told the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat in remarks published on Saturday that “Turkish authorities have thwarted an attempt to abduct [Free Syrian Army commander] Riad al-Asaad.”
 11:42 The Syrian army launched an offensive early Saturday against rebels in the village of Ain al-Beida, not far from the border with Turkey, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported.
 11:13 A suicide car bomber killed and wounded people on Saturday in the Syrian city of Daraa, SANA reported.
 10:43 44 Syrian soldiers were executed in Daraa Saturday after they had tried to defect from the army, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Syrian Human Rights Network as saying.
 10:10 A Red Cross team has entered the Baba Amr district of Homs to assess needs, but Syrian authorities have yet to allow in aid, an ICRC official told AFP on Saturday.
 10:01 Syrian National Council member Yara Nusair said that among the reasons why the Syrian regime has been able to survive “is because the majority of Syrian oppositionists – inside the SNC and outside of it – are preoccupied with disagreements over how to manage the opposition.”
 8:47 A British photographer wounded in Homs said Friday that the bombardment of the besieged Syrian city amounted to a “medieval siege and slaughter,” and he denounced the Damascus government as “murderers.”
 8:37 Syrian forces seemed to be directly targeting journalists in Homs, wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier and photographer William Daniels said Saturday, after escaping the besieged city.
 8:03 Syria’s UN envoy on Friday accused Ban Ki-moon of “slandering” his country after the UN leader again condemned President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on opposition protests.

 BBC: Red Cross denied entry to Baba Amr for second day

The International Red Cross says Syrian authorities have denied it access to the devastated Baba Amr district of Homs for a second day.

A spokesman said they were negotiating and would not give up as the need on the ground was great.

Syrian officials say the area is being cleared of booby traps.

But there have been reports of revenge killings by Syrian forces since rebel fighters pulled out, and shelling has been reported in other areas of Homs.

Meanwhile, the bodies of a US journalist and a French photographer, who were killed in Homs, have left Damascus on a flight to Paris.

“I confirm that… the bodies of Remi Ochlick and Marie Colvin are aboard the Air France flight which has just left Damascus bound for Paris” on Saturday evening, France’s ambassador to Damascus Eric Chevallier told the AFP agency.

Their bodies had been handed over to diploamts earlier at the Al-Assad University Hospital in Damascus, reports said.

‘Street by street’

The seven-lorry Red Cross aid convoy spent the night in Homs and is set to spend a second after being blocked from entering Baba Amr, despite having been initially given permission from the government.

“[The International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Cross Society] could not enter Baba Amr today,” said the UK spokesman of the ICRC, Sean Maguire.

“Negotiations to gain access to the suburb continue. Our teams remain in Homs, ready to enter Baba Amr as soon as possible.”

But he said their presence in Baba Amr was vital.

“The needs on the ground are quite large and we need to get in quickly,” he said, adding that they were not giving up.

“We haven’t turned back… We’re persistent.”

The BBC’s Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says the reason being given by the Syrian authorities is that there are mines and potential booby traps in Baba Amr that need to be cleared first.

 (video) Ban Ki-moon: “We continue to receive grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture”

But he says there have been unconfirmed reports of revenge killings and summary executions by Syrian forces in Baba Amr and opposition activists believe the delay is to cover this up.

The reports speak of mass arrests of males over the age of 11, with the local cooperative building being turned into a detention centre.

One report alleged that a lorryload of dead bodies from Baba Amr was seen on a nearby highway. There were also reports of explosions and shootings in other nearby districts to which many families from Baba Amr had fled.

There were reports of renewed shelling in other parts of Homs on Saturday.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights group said mortar and machine-gun rounds had been fired into Jobar, adjacent to Baba Amr, while the Local Coordination Committees network said the districts of Khaldiya, Bab Sbaa and Khader had also been shelled.

Syrian state media said there had also been a suicide car bomb attack in the southern city of Daraa that had killed two people.

Syrian state television has broadcast pictures from inside Baba Amr that show massive destruction, which it blamed on “armed terrorist gangs” carrying out a foreign plot to undermine Syrian stability.

Conditions in Baba Amr are said to be terrible, with no power and little food, water and medical supplies.

Our correspondent says the TV pictures showed nobody at all on the streets and that until the Red Cross gains access to make an assessment it will be impossible to say how many people remain.

One activist, Bassel Fouad, who has escaped to Lebanon, said colleagues who stayed behind had told him that pro-government gunmen were “entering homes and setting them on fire”.

“They begin at the start of a street and enter and search house after house,” he told Associated Press. “Then they start with another street.”

‘Disproportionate force’

In an address to the UN General Assembly on Friday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the international community had failed in its duty, and inaction had encouraged Syria’s leaders in their repression of civilians.

Mr Ban said it was time for the international community to speak with one voice.

“Continued division emboldens the Syrian authorities in their violent path,” he said.

He added: “The disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities has driven what had been largely peaceful opposition forces to resort to take up arms in some cases.”

Meanwhile Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer who fled Syria after being wounded in Homs, told the BBC that what was happening in Baba Amr was “systematic slaughter”.

Mr Conroy, who was smuggled out of Syria into Lebanon on Tuesday, described the scenes in Homs from his hospital bed in the UK.

“I’ve done a fair few wars, I’ve never seen anything on this level,” he said.

“There are no targets, it’s pure systematic slaughter of a civilian population.”

REUTERS: Tanks deploy in main city in eastern Syria

Syrian army tanks deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Saturday to support forces and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad who came under rebel attack after three pro-democracy demonstrators were killed, opposition activists said.

“Old Russian T-54 tanks and armoured vehicles have taken positions at main roundabouts. Every half an hour or so you hear gunfire by the Free Syrian Army directed at roadblocks manned by security police and ‘shabbiha’ (pro-Assad militia),” Abu Abdel Rahman, one of the activists, told Reuters from Deir al-Zor.

The city, 450 km (280 miles) northeast of Damascus, is situated on the Euphrates river in an oil producing province bordering Iraq, from where opposition sources say weapons are smuggled to rebels operating under the flag of the loosely organised Free Syrian Army.

Opposition sources say Free Syrian Army rebels in Deir al-Zor have been arming and organising in the last two months as Assad’s main forces were focused on trying to put down the revolt on the central city of Homs and its surrounding countryside.

“There are now ten Free Syrian Army brigades operating in Deir al-Zor and more weapons flowing from Iraq, but the rebels’ organisation is still lacking and security forces retain control on the city in daytime. At night the ground belongs to the rebels,” Abu Abdelrahman said.

Controlling the Sunni city would poise another major challenge for Assad, a member of Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam that has dominated Syria for the last five decades by taking control of the army and security apparatus and then forging alliances under Assad’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, with Sunni merchants and tribes.

Deir al-Zor, situated deep in Syria’s tribal heartland, is far from central supply lines and its inhabitants have strong links with kinsmen in Iraq’s Sunni heartland.

Tanks stormed the city in August to put down large street protests demanding Assad’s removal, and have since stayed on the edge of the city.

Syrian forces killed three young men Deir al-Zor earlier on Saturday when they opened fire at a funeral for two people killed in a crackdown on expanding pro-democracy demonstrations in the region, opposition activists said.

“The funeral was in al-Ommal neighbourhood for Amira al-Salem and Omar a-Juneidi, who were killed on Friday. The mourners began chanting against Assad when the ‘amin’ (security police) started shooting from a hilltop,” said activist Abdallah Mahmoud.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)

Guardian: Turkey steps up rhetoric on Syrian ‘massacre’

Rescued journalist tells of being abandoned in tunnel as China urges government and rebel to end all acts of violence

Turkey has called the violence in Syria “a crime against humanity” on the scale of the 1990s bloodshed in the Balkans, as a Red Cross convoy was once again barred from entering the Homs suburb of Baba Amr.

The comment by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu follows similar remarks from the EU on Friday, which called for the documentation of war crimes in Syria.

“No government, no authority, under no circumstances, can endorse such a total massacre of its own people,” Davutoglu said. “The international community must speak louder. The lack of international consensus is giving Syria the courage to continue.”

The criticism came at the end of a week in which the UK and France closed their embassies in Syria, and China and Russia appeared to shift position in calling for President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime to admit UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

“The situation in the field seems to resemble Sarajevo or Srebrenica. This seems to be the way we are heading,” Davutoglu said at a joint news conference with Giulio Terzi, Italy’s foreign minister. “We believe that diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime must be increased. We say this not only from the point of view of the EU. We believe all international institutions must do this.”

China urged the government and the rebels to immediately end all acts of violence, especially against civilians. A foreign ministry statement urged both sides to “launch an inclusive political dialogue with no preconditions” under the mediation of former UN secretary- eneral Kofi Annan, the newly appointed UN-Arab League envoy on the Syria crisis, .

On Friday, current UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he had received “grisly reports” that Assad’s troops were executing, imprisoning and torturing people in Homs. Syrian forces continued to pound the battered city and authorities handed over the bodies of two journalists killed in Baba Amr last month – including Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times – to diplomats in Damascus.

Meanwhile, the wounded French journalist Edith Bouvier described for the first time how she feared her attempt to escape from Homs had ended inside a dark, three-kilometre tunnel that rebels were using to supply the besieged district of Baba Amr when the Syrian army bombarded its exit.

Bouvier was abandoned, taped to a stretcher with a broken leg, as rebels and dozens of wounded headed back to the neighbourhood. “One of them placed his Kalashnikov on me. He put his hand on my head and said a prayer. It wasn’t very reassuring. Then he left,” Bouvier told Le Figaronewspaper, for which she was working in Syria. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. Was the exit blocked? Were Syrian soldiers going to enter? I wanted to run away, before remembering that I was taped to a stretcher.” Bouvier and French photographer William Daniels, who stayed with her, were finally rescued by a rebel who drove down the tunnel on a motorbike.

Concern was mounting for civilians in freezing conditions in battered Baba Amr, where trucks from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were still blocked from entering. “The ICRC and Syrian Red Crescent are not yet in Baba Amr today. We are still in negotiations with authorities. It is important that we enter today,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said.

Anti-government activists said they feared troops were keeping out the ICRC to prevent aid workers witnessing a massacre. UN chief Ban blamed Damascus for the fate of civilians. “The brutal fighting has trapped civilians in their homes, without food, heat or electricity or medical care; without any chance of evacuating the wounded or burying the dead. People have been reduced to melting snow for drinking water. This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people.”

Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s UN ambassador, said Ban’s remarks included “extremely virulent rhetoric which confines itself to slandering a government based on reports, opinions or hearsay”.

Elsewhere in the country, Syrian state news agency Sana said a suicide car bomber in the town of Deraa, near the border with Jordan, had killed two people and wounded 20. Residents claimed seven people had been killed, and anti-Assad activists denied the attack was a suicide bombing. Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said anti-Assad fighters had earlier killed six soldiers and wounded nine in al-Herak.

CNN: Dozens of defecting Syrian soldiers executed, activists say

Syria smoldered on Saturday as soldiers executed dozens of defectors in Idlib province and shelling persisted in the besieged city of Homs, activists told CNN.

More than 40 soldiers trying to defect from an army unit in Idlib province were executed by government troops, according to activists from the town of Binnish, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

The incident occurred at the Abu Athuhoor Military Airport when 50 soldiers attempted to defect, the network said.

A captain loyal to the regime got wind of the plan and thwarted it, telling soldiers he would join them, but then informing a brigadier general about the attempt, the network said.

The group said 44 were executed; their bodies were dumped in a lake. Six escaped, the network said.

“The Syrian Network for Human Rights places the responsibility of such criminal action on the commander in chief of army and armed forces (Syrian President) Bashar Al-Assad, the captain and the brigadier general.

“The SNHR demands an immediate international investigation for this massacre,” it said.

The LCC and the Binnish group said 47 soldiers were killed. There was no immediate comment from the government.

Military defectors pose a threat to the Syrian regime. Many have left the army because they have refused to heed orders to fire on civilians. Last summer, the Free Syrian Army, a resistance force composed of defectors, emerged. The group has said soldiers are regularly switching sides for the FSA.

As for Homs, the shelling and miserable conditions continued, opposition activists said.

And in the Damascus suburbs, more than 100 people were arrested, the LCC said.

The bodies of two journalists killed last week in Syrian shelling on the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs were delivered to Western diplomats in Syria, Red Cross officials said.

Reporter Marie Colvin’s body was handed over to Polish diplomats representing U.S. interests in Syria. Photographer Remi Ochlik’s body was transferred to the French.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered the bodies to the diplomats at al-Assad University Hospital in Damascus. Doctors there identified the bodies.

Poland said it is engaged in efforts to transport Colvin’s remains to the United States. France says it doesn’t know when Ochlik’s body can be taken to France.

Their deaths and the ongoing Syrian military crackdown underscore the hardships and dangers civilians face across the country.

“Where is the free world?” asked opposition activist Sami Ibrahim, describing a dire humanitarian crisis in the city of Homs and crying for international help. “The situation is very bad.”

Dima Moussa, spokeswoman for the opposition Revolutionary Council of Homs, called the government’s relentless push to pacify Homs a “suffocating siege.”

She said there was shelling in the neighborhoods of Bab Tadmur and Jib al-Jandali, and mortars were targeting Ashira.

Food is hard to get and electricity has been cut off, she said. There was no water in most areas and civilians were using melted snow and rain water for drinking. Snipers were blanketing the city and corridors in and out “are nearly closed off completely,” she said.

“The medical situation continues to deteriorate and is catastrophic, and all kinds of medicine have run out from field hospitals,” Moussa said.

The Syrian government has been seeking to shut down anti-government protests for nearly a year. It has directed its firepower lately on Homs, where many neighborhoods are bastions of the opposition.

Much recent attention has focused on Baba Amr, a neighborhood of five square miles (eight square kilometers) that endured nearly a month of shelling before rebel forces announced a “tactical retreat” on Thursday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been trying to enter the devastated neighborhood for days.

On Thursday, Syrian authorities granted teams from the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society permission to enter; but on Friday, the ambulances and aid workers carrying food and medical supplies were turned away.

SANA reported Saturday that authorities had “restored security and safety” to Baba Amr after ousting “armed terrorist groups who ran amok in it and committed murder and vandalism, turning the locals’ life into a living hell.”

State TV quoted a resident saying “terrorists” used rocket-propelled grenades and mortars and many of them were foreigners.

“There were Saudis, Qataris, Emiratis, Libyans and others. There were all kinds of nationalities, they didn’t have mustaches, just long beards. They were masked. They blocked the streets, stopped us at checkpoints. It was true terror by all means. They had snipers all over. They destroyed the houses. The terrorists forced us to go out and joined their demos or they told us we will be shot if we don’t,” he said.

But activists and independent observers reported callous government actions.

British journalist Paul Conroy, who was wounded in his stomach and leg and then smuggled to Lebanon in a six-day journey from Baba Amr, called the government siege “a medieval siege and slaughter.”

“I would say quite categorically that’s the most ferocious, vicious, and unnecessary that I’ve seen,” he said. “And there are actually no military targets within Baba Amr. All of the intense shelling is directed at the civilian population.”

The United Nations estimates more than 7,500 people have died since then, while the LCC says more than 9,000 people have died during the conflict. The Syrian government says more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed in the violence.

Including the defector deaths, the LCC said at least 80 people had been killed Saturday nationwide.

In Daraa, the southern city where the anti-government uprising began last year, at least three civilians were killed and 20 civilians and security personnel were wounded, SANA said.

SANA said a “terrorist suicide bomber” blew up a car he was driving at al-Masri roundabout in Daraa’s al-Balad area. The opposition Free Syrian Army said state security forces staged the bombing themselves.

Car and suicide bombings, common militant tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been rare in the Syrian uprising. There have been a handful of suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s two largest cities.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition group, said at least six Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with defectors after forces loyal to President al-Assad stormed the city of Hirak northeast of Daraa.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports across Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists.

Protests began last March, when townspeople in and around Daraa protested the arrest of school children for painting anti-government graffiti. The government’s fierce crackdown on the protesters and the tenacity of the demonstrators emboldened protests in other cities.

CNN’s Saad Abedine, Salma Abdelaziz, Holly Yan, Nic Robertson, Kareem Khadder and Joe Sterling