As the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan headed to Turkey on Monday as part of his Syria mediation mission, news has emerged that around 130 civilians were killed in cold blood in Syria.
The carnage in Syria, which includes military assault on Homs and the northwestern city of Idlib, coincided with a weekend peace mission by Annan, who left Damascus on Sunday without agreement on a truce or humanitarian access. “The terrorist armed groups have kidnapped scores of civilians in the city of Homs, central Syria, killed, and mutilated their corpses and filmed them to be shown by media outlets,” state news agency SANA said on its website. Footage posted by opposition activists on YouTube showed men, women and children lying dead in a blood-drenched room.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a grassroots opposition network, said at least 45 women and children had been stabbed and burned in the Homs district of Karm al-Zeitoun. It said another seven people were slain in the city’s Jobar district, which adjoins the former rebel bastion of Baba Amr.
Activists contacted in Homs accused Alawite “shabbiha” militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the killings under the protection of regular Syrian military forces. Waleed Fares, an activist in Homs’s Khalidiyah district, which is about one kilometer from Karm al-Zeitoun, said that 30 to 40 tanks had arrived in Karm al-Zeitoun on Sunday night.
“We know now that four families have been killed by shabbiha. We have 21 names and we are trying to confirm the names of the rest,” he told Reuters via Skype, adding that the victims were all from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority.
Fares said most of the killings occurred in Karm al-Zeitoun, but some took place in other districts. “The Free Syrian Army helped move the bodies to one place. Otherwise the regime forces would have hidden the evidence,” he said.
In the southern city of Deraa, scene of sporadic street fighting between Free Syrian Army rebels and Assad’s troops, a car bomb killed a schoolgirl and wounded 25 others at a girls’ school. An opposition activist said members of the school had taken part in anti-Assad demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the Security Council was holding a special meeting on Arab revolts later on Monday as Today’s Zaman went to print, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines.
Russia and China have blocked attempts to pass a Security Council resolution condemning Damascus for its attempts to crush the rebellion, in which the United Nations says well over 7,500 people have been killed.
China and Russia, as well as Western and Arab nations, have voiced support for Annan’s peace mission, but no common ground has emerged between Assad, who is bent on crushing dissent, and his opponents, who are determined to overthrow him. “The situation is so bad and so dangerous that all of us cannot afford to fail,” Annan said in Damascus on Sunday. Annan met the emir and prime minister of Qatar in Doha on Monday and headed for Ankara for talks with Turkey’s prime minister and foreign minister. Annan has said he wants a cease-fire and access for humanitarian aid agencies to civilians in strife-hit areas as a first step before a political dialogue among all parties.
Western and Arab countries have sought to isolate Assad, but he has a few allies, notably Iran, which has invited Iraq, Lebanon and Syria to a conference in Tehran on March 18 to “support the Syrian regime against its opponents,” the pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper reported on Monday.
Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters by telephone from Qatar, “He has left a set of concrete proposals with Bashar on a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and political dialogue, and expects to hear from him shortly,” adding that “he is concerned that the fighting and the killing seem to be continuing while he is trying to put an end to it and while he is trying to talk to Bashar.”
A spokesperson for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ambassador Tariq Ali Bakhiet announced on Monday that a meeting will be held between OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Hillary Clinton in Washington on Tuesday to address the latest developments in Syria and current situation in Palestine. Meanwhile in Ankara, the Council of Ministers met on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria in addition to several domestic issues.