Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Opposition activists: Boy's death marks latest violence in Syria


(CNN) -- A 13-year-old boy was killed by sniper fire Wednesday as government forces continue tormenting civilians across Syria, opposition activists said.

The boy was killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.

And an undisclosed number of people were killed and injured by rockets falling on the western city of Rastan, the group said.

Meanwhile, in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, Syrian forces stormed residential buildings searching for and detaining men ages 13 and above, said an opposition activist named Mostapha.

A United Nations official supported what Syrian dissidents have claimed for months -- that indiscriminate bombardment by government tanks and rocket fire have contributed to "well over 7,500 deaths."

The U.N. has credible reports that "the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including women and children," Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council. Pascoe is the U.N.'s undersecretary general for political affairs.

The number Pascoe cited is still below the 9,000-plus that opposition activists say have died in the nearly year-long government attempt to wipe out its opposition. At least 104 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday alone, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC), a network of opposition activists.

The deaths include 50 in the opposition stronghold of Homs, which has been pummeled by government forces for more than three weeks. Thirty-five others died in the suburbs of Hama, where hundreds were also injured in a fifth day of shelling.

The Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs faced further shelling Wednesday, and there were violent clashes between the regime's army and the opposition's Free Syrian Army, according to the LCC.

France said it was trying to evacuate its two nationals stranded in Homs, in coordination with Syrian authorities and the Red Crescent. "We expect the government of Damascus to meet all the conditions for a safe and rapid evacuation, including an immediate cease-fire on Baba Amr," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told CNN.

On state-run media, Syria routinely blames "armed terrorist groups" for the violence.

The state-run news agency SANA reported Wednesday that 12 "army and law enforcement martyrs" were buried.

"The martyrs' relatives hailed the role of the Syrian army in maintaining the security and stability of the homeland, expressing confidence of the ability of the Syrian people to overcome the crisis through their unity and rallying around their leadership, asserting that Syria will foil all the conspiracies hatched against it," the report said.

CNN and other media outlets cannot independently verify opposition or government reports because Syria has severely limited access to the country by foreign journalists. But the vast majority of reports from the ground indicate that government forces are killing citizens in an attempt to eliminate those seeking President Bashar al-Assad's ouster.

In addition to the mounting casualties, about 25,000 people have registered as refugees in neighboring countries and 100,000 to 200,000 are displaced within Syria, Pascoe said.

Al-Assad, in power since 2000, has refused to budge despite cries from the Syrian opposition and international leaders to do so.

But Tunisia -- which catapulted the Arab Spring as the first country in the region to oust a longtime ruler last year -- has offered asylum to Syria's president.

Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki said "closing all exits in front of the Syrian regime" would "worsen its brutality against the revolution of the brotherly Syrian people and, consequently, the likelihood of causing thousands more victims," the Tunisian state TAP news agency reported.

"If the Syrian president's departure to another country, including Tunisia, helps bring about a settlement to the political crisis in Syria, Tunisia will be ready to lend its assistance," Marzouki said, according to TAP.

Other world leaders indicate that getting al-Assad to step down might take some international restraint.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Appropriations Committee that al-Assad could be tried for war crimes.

"I think people have been putting forth the argument, but I also think from long experience that could complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders, perhaps, to step down from power," Clinton said Tuesday.

But the pressure on the Syrian regime mounted Tuesday, when the U.N. Human Rights Council met to discuss a report saying Syrian government officials were responsible for "crimes against humanity" against opposition members.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said her office has received "disturbing reports of a rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation. Recent reports further indicate that Syrian military and security forces have launched massive campaigns of arrest, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protesters, as well as activists and others suspected of anti-government activities."

The cities of Hama and Homs have borne the brunt of the violence, she said. During government blockades, residents can't access food, water or medical supplies.

Opposition activists and residents in Homs have said those wounded by the regime's onslaught can't go to hospitals because they have been either damaged by rocket attacks or taken over by government forces. Some have died from what would have been non-lethal injuries, they said.
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