Death toll rises to 60 on eve of UN peace mission to Syria


At least 60 people were killed Friday in the Syrian government’s sustained clampdown on opposition areas, said activists, on the eve of a peace mission by the United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to end the year-long violence in the country.

Heavy shelling by government troops in the districts of Karem al- Zeitoun, Bab al-Sibaa and Khalidiyeh in the central province of Homs Friday killed 45 people, including eight children, Omar Homsi, a Syrian activist in the area, told dpa by satellite phone.

He added that most residents of Rastan in Homs had fled the town because of the fierce shelling.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a group of activists that documents violence on the ground across Syria, said 15 people were killed Friday in the north-western province of Idlib, when government troops attacked a village to hunt down deserters.

An unspecified number of other people were reportedly killed when government forces fired on anti-regime protests. Mass demonstrations were, meanwhile, held in several parts of Syria.

Footage posted Friday on the Facebook page of the opposition group, Syrian Revolution 2011, showed people chanting: ‘We want to execute (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad and his thugs.’

Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, estimated that more than 15,000 people demonstrated in the southern province of Daraa, the birthplace of the revolt against al-Assad’s regime.

In Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed to dpa that two Syrian generals crossed the border into Turkey on Friday, bringing to four the number of generals who have defected from al-Assad’s regime.

The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, rejected a call by Annan, the international envoy on the Syrian crisis, for dialogue to end the violence in the country.

‘I think such statements will do no good for the Syrian people. Instead it will give the regime a kind of a green light to kill more Syrians,’ Walid al- Buni, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, told dpa.

Annan, who is due in the Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday, has called for dialogue to end the year-long crisis and warned that further militarization will ‘make the situation worse.’

Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos toured Syrian refugee camps along the Turkish-Syrian border on Friday.

‘The Syrian government has asked for more time to look at the agreement that I have put to them. It is very important indeed in my view that we get unhindered access,’ Amos told a news conference in Ankara.

She had visited Syria and toured some violence-devastated areas earlier in the week.

‘However, the government has agreed to a limited assessment exercise by UN agencies and the Syrian authorities, which would give us some information about what is happening in the country,’ Amos said.

She spoke of shock at seeing the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, which has been besieged and shelled by the government forces for almost a month.

‘I was devastated by what I saw. That part of Homs is totally destroyed, there are no people left. Those I saw were claiming their possessions,’ she said.

News from Syria cannot be independently verified as the government bars foreign media from the restive areas.

The UN has put the number of people killed in Syria’s conflict at well over 7,500 in the last 11 months.