Syria’s regime, opposition plead for help


Syria’s regime urged the Arab League to help it against the US, which it accused of involvement in “bloody events,” as the opposition called for the “international protection” of civilians.

The pan-Arab group, which is trying to implement its blueprint to end the Syrian government’s deadly eight-month crackdown on protesters, said Monday it received the request in a letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

The letter accused Washington “of actual involvement in bloody events in Syria” and asked the 22-member League to “condemn the involvement and to do what is necessary to end it,” the group said in a statement.

It did not provide any details on the charges of US involvement in the Syrian bloodshed.

But Syria has in the past accused the US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, of inciting violence by visiting protest hubs, before Washington recalled him last month following “credible threats against his safety in Syria.”

In the letter, Syria sought Arab assistance “to provide the appropriate atmosphere to implement the agreement,” said the statement.

Arab League deputy chief Ahmed Ben Hilli told AFP that Syria had sent a letter detailing the steps it took towards carrying out the plan, but he refused to elaborate.

The League has called an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday about Syria’s failure to implement its roadmap, which calls on President Bashar al-Assad to open talks with the opposition and withdraw tanks from the streets.

The US State Department said Monday that the Assad regime is beginning to feel the “pinch” from US and European Union sanctions.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said that an increasing number of Syrian military officers were defecting as international condemnation grows.

A month after Syria cracked down violently on protests that erupted in mid-March, the United States and the European Union imposed their first sanctions against the regime and its officials. They have since tightened them.

One goal of sanctions is “to stanch the money that the regime uses… to fund its armed insurrection against its own people,” Nuland said.

Another goal is “to make those around Assad who continue to support him and to continue to support his tactics think twice about whether they are on the right side of history in Syria,” she added.

Elsewhere on the diplomatic front, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for greater pressure on the regime, rather than military intervention, to end the violent repression in Syria.

“Of course, the UK would like to be able to pass a resolution at the UN Security Council bringing the condemnation of the world on the use of force against civilians by the Syrian regime,” he said.

On the ground, five civilians were killed as heavy artillery clashes erupted between regime forces and presumed army defectors in the central city of Homs, a human rights group reported.

It was the fifth day of a “brutal siege on the brave city,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The opposition Syrian National Council appealed to the international community to send “Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres.”

The SNC urged the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to act “to stop the massacre committed by the regime” in Homs, which it declared a “humanitarian disaster area.”

It also called for the evacuation of civilians from “areas that are under shelling and destruction” in the industrial city, a tinder box of sectarian tensions that risk escalating into a civil war.

Assad’s forces, it said, had “launched a large-scale attack” overnight on parts of Homs, and that “indiscriminate slaughter is being committed by the regime’s militias.”

The army was “using heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and warplanes to bomb populated residential neighborhoods” in Homs.

Homs is the only major city to remain outside the regime’s control after military operations in Hama, Deir Ezzor in northeastern Syria and the coastal cities of Latakia and Banias reined in the dissent.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five civilians were killed in during the clashes in Homs.

“Shooting could be heard in Homs where neighbourhoods came under heavy machinegun fire at dawn,” the Britain-based watchdog said, adding “more than 40 explosions were heard.”

Residents there saw a truck “filled with corpses.”

In Damascus province, a 63-year-old man died of his wounds after being shot by security forces the previous day, the rights group said.

In Banias, worshippers leaving Al-Radwan mosque staged a rally calling for the “fall of the regime” and the “execution of the president.”

Forces responded by raiding the homes surrounding the mosque.

The latest clashes bring to at least 80 number of people killed since Syria signed the Arab peace plan on Wednesday last week.

The United Nations estimates more than 3,000 people have been killed across Syria in the security crackdown since pro-reform protests erupted in mid-March.