Tuesday September 18, 2012
Syria fighting rages as Iran calls for halt to violence
DAMASCUS: Syrian troops shelled several districts in Aleppo and clashed with rebels on Tuesday, as Damascus ally Iran proposed a simultaneous halt to the violence and a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Clashes erupted in Bustan al-Qasr in the southwest and in nearby Izaa as both districts were shelled, residents in Syria's second city said, also reporting fighting further south in Sukari.
Overnight, shelling killed two civilians in the rebel-held Sakhur neighbourhood in the northeast, while nearby Hanano was also bombed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syrian forces said they had secured the flashpoint Midan district on Monday after a week of fighting, although an AFP correspondent said some parts were still unsafe for residents to return.
Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan said the army had "cleansed" Midan, which "opens the door" to nearby neighbourhoods, including Bustan al-Basha, Suleiman al-Halabi and Sakhur.
But the two-month-old battle for Aleppo was very fluid, with both sides claiming gains in a guerrilla war, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Outside Aleppo, two civilians were killed in shelling on the town of Al-Bab and the town of Safira was also reportedly bombed, according to the watchdog.
In Damascus, at least four soldiers and one rebel were killed, as the army tried to push into the southern districts of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Qadam and Assali, and three civilians were killed by shelling, the Observatory said.
Troops also bombed areas in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where 10 civilians were killed, the northwestern province of Idlib and the central province of Homs, where a rebel was killed in fighting, the monitor added.
The Britain-based group says more than 27,000 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in March 2011. The United Nations puts the toll at more than 20,000.
Iran's proposal emerged in a meeting in Cairo on Monday of the Syria "contact group" to which it Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey belong, Tehran's official news agency IRNA and broadcaster IRIB said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi appealed for "a simultaneous halt in clashes and violence by the sides in Syria, insisted on a peaceful solution without foreign intervention and a halt to financial, military and training support for the Syrian opposition," IRNA reported, without giving a source.
He told his Egyptian and Turkish counterparts that observers from their countries, and from Saudi Arabia, could "monitor the process of stopping the violence in Syria," IRNA added.
And he called for peace talks "to help the process of fundamental reforms and finding a democratic approach in Syria."
Last month, the United Nations withdrew its own observers after both sides failed to adhere to ceasefire to which they had committed.
'Dramatic escalation in attacks on civilians'
Iran's strong support for Bashar al-Assad contrasts with the positions of the other three members of the contact group, who are all demanding the Syria president step down.
Tehran, which is widely suspected of providing military support to Assad's regime, accuses Turkey and Saudi Arabia of doing the same for the rebels.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who attended Monday's talks, stressed that Saudi participation would be crucial. Saudi Arabia was notably absent at Monday's talks.
"Consultations with Saudi Arabia are necessary because the kingdom is a key player in the attempt to reach a solution to the Syrian crisis," he said. The group is to meet again in New York later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Egypt's state news agency reported.
As the killing continues, the head of a UN commission investigating rights abuses in Syria said they had soared dramatically in recent weeks and that the UN Security Council should take "appropriate action" against war criminals.
"Gross violations of human rights have grown in number, in pace and in scale," Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said on Monday, adding that Assad's regime and rebels, to a lesser extent, had committed war crimes.
Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, echoed similar views as he briefed the Security Council, saying: "Indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by government forces with heavy weapons, tanks and air assets has increased."
And Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to refer the conflict to the International Criminal Court.
In other developments, UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was welcomed by some 1,300 Syrians at the Altinozu refugee camp in Turkey's Hatay province near the Syrian border, amid anti-regime chants like "Free Syria! We will fight till freedom!"
Brahimi, who took over recently from former UN chief Kofi Annan, paid his first visit to Damascus at the weekend, meeting Assad and other officials, as well as the officially tolerated opposition.
He said the "crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world."
After he left Damascus on Sunday, a rebel commander said: "We are sure Brahimi will fail like the other envoys before him, but we do not want to be the reason of his failure."
Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, the Free Syrian Army commander in Aleppo, complained that world powers were pushing the opposition to sit down for talks with the regime, but without pressuring the government to stop its repression. -AFP