UN estimates over 5,000 dead in Syria crackdown
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 13 people on Tuesday, reports said after the UN estimated more than 5,000 have died in a nine-month crackdown on dissent.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay gave the latest death toll — amounting to a jump of 1,000 in less than two weeks — as she appealed to the UN Security Council to launch a crimes against humanity case.
Pillay’s private briefing to the 15-nation council — where Russia and China blocked a resolution condemning Assad in October — heightened divisions over how to respond to the Syria troubles.
She told reporters after the meeting that she had given the new toll of more than 5,000 dead — including more than 300 children — and recommended Assad’s crackdown be referred to the International Criminal Court.
“The widespread and systematic nature of the killings, the detentions and the acts of torture — I felt that these acts constituted crimes against humanity,” said Pillay.
The “intolerable” situation in Syria — where more than 14,000 have been detained — has seen 12,400 flee into neighboring countries since protests erupted in March, she said.
As Syria is not a signatory to the ICC statute, only the Security Council could refer the case to the tribunal, as it did in the case of Libya this year.
“Inaction by the international community will embolden Syrian authorities, and ensure perpetrators go unpunished,” said Pillay.
The Security Council meeting came as Western nations step up pressure to condemn Assad’s campaign.
“I think it is necessary that those countries in the Security Council which are still hesitating change their mind,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting Pillay.
France’s UN envoy said the council was “morally responsible” for the daily deaths by staying silent.
But Russia, a key ally of Assad’s Syria, said on Tuesday that Western accusations it was blocking UN action condemning the crackdown were “immoral” because the West was refusing to put pressure on armed rebel groups.
“There are those who refuse to put pressure on the armed, extremist part of the opposition and are at the same time accusing us of blocking the UN Security Council’s work. I would call this position immoral,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in televised comments.
Despite the diplomatic wrangling, the death toll continued to mount on Tuesday.
Security forces backed by pro-regime Shabiha militiamen killed 11 people and wounded dozens of others in two villages of northwestern Idlib province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Eleven people were killed and dozens others wounded Tuesday by gunfire from security forces and the Shabiha in the areas of Maarret Masrin and Kfar Yahmul,” the Britain-based group said in a statement.
And state-run SANA news agency said border guards shot dead two “terrorist” infiltrators who were attempting to enter Syria from Turkey.
“Border guards’ forces in Idlib today foiled an infiltration attempt by an armed terrorist group into the Syrian lands through Ain al-Bayda site of Badama, Idlib” province, said SANA.
“Border Guards’ forces clashed with 15 terrorists… killing two of them and wounding the others,” said the report in English.
Syria on December 6 reported its forces thwarted a similar infiltration bid by “armed terrorist groups” in the same area, saying an unspecified number of the 35 gunmen were wounded and the rest fled back to Turkey.
Turkey says that about 7,500 Syrians have fled across the border with its southern neighbour to escape the crackdown.
Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, who heads the Free Syrian Army, is based in a Turkish border camp and, unlike some other dissidents, has called for foreign air strikes.
In the flashpoint province of Homs, meanwhile, an explosion ripped through a gas pipeline near the town of Rastan, SANA reported, blaming the incident on “terrorists.”
Homs, one of the main hubs of the unprecedented demonstrations against Assad’s regime, has been besieged by security forces and loyalist militias for months.
The explosion is the fourth reported attack on energy infrastructure since the outbreak of the pro-reform protest movement in mid-March, following two similar incidents west of Homs, and one in oil-rich Deir Ezzor province.
Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and the United States are waiting for the result of Arab League meetings on Syria in coming days to decide their next UN move, diplomats said.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that since the council passed a statement on Syria on August 3, events had seen the West “switch gears and turn into regime-change mode, discouraging dialogue.”
NATO has strongly denied any plan for military action in Syria.