Hama deaths prompt call for U.N. action
CNN): A military rocket attack killed more than 70 people in the Syrian flashpoint city of Hama, activists said Thursday, calling the strike one of the deadliest in the grinding conflict.
The Wednesday incident prompted the Syrian opposition on Thursday to call on the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session to take up the issue of protecting civilians.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government blamed terrorist groups for the deaths in Hama. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said a terrorist group was building a bomb that exploded and killed 16 people, including children.
But activists said the blast, in the Masha’a Altayar neighborhood, was a rocket attack that led to many more deaths when it caused poorly constructed buildings to collapse. Video showed people milling around the rubble. One activist said more than a dozen children were pulled from the wreckage.
“This is among the deadliest attacks, and is further proof that the Assad regime has no intention of implementing the Annan plan,” said Rafif Jouejati, spokeswoman for the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria. She was referring to the six-point peace plan of U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
On Thursday, security forces fired on a demonstration that coincided with a general strike to mourn those killed the day before, the LCC said.
The opposition Syrian National Council’s demand for a U.N. Security Council session comes the same day the Arab League called an emergency meeting in Cairo in which ministers were to take up the issue of Syria’s fragile truce, which showed little sign of taking hold amid the reports of violence in Hama and other cities.
Hope for the Annan plan’s success is wavering amid opposition claims that al-Assad’s security forces continue to use snipers and tanks to attack rebels in volatile cities.
The council condemned the international community for continuing to give al-Assad’s government time to implement the peace place because it gives “the criminal regime more time to kill.”
“The regime is committing all sorts of violations to Annan’s plan and until this moment it has not abided by any of the plan’s points,” the national council said in a statement denouncing the Hama incident.
The national council said in a written statement that the “international community, represented by the United Nations and its Security Council, bears responsibility for what is happening now on the ground.”
“We call for an emergency session (at the United Nations) to issue a resolution to protect Syrian civilians,” it said.
The council said it will continue to support the Free Syrian Army, the anti-regime fighter force, to protect “unarmed people,” regardless of the future of Annan’s plan.
For 13 months, violence has raged between al-Assad’s forces and the opposition in a lopsided battle that has seen thousands killed amid a number of international attempts to broker a peace deal.The latest reports of violence follow news that more U.N. observers are arriving in Syria. The U.N. Security Council recently authorized sending up to 300 monitors to Syria for 90 days. They are tasked with observing a cease-fire that was supposed to have begun April 12.
The observers will also monitor the implementation of the peace plan, which calls for the government and the opposition to end the bloodshed, provide access to the population for humanitarian groups, release detainees and start a political dialogue.
By Monday, 30 observers are expected to be in the country, with that number swelling to 100 by month’s end. But as of Wednesday, only 13 were in Syria.
Annan said Syria’s foreign minister told him that heavy weapons and troops had been withdrawn from population centers and that military operations had ended, key elements of the peace plan.
Even so, disturbing allegations of violence emerged. At least 20 people were killed across the country on Thursday, the LCC said.
Two died in a in shelling near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria that also wounded 25, according to the opposition.
“It is collective punishment because there are some activists (in this area of Deir Ezzor),” said an opposition activist identified as Abu Bilal. “People are trapped in their homes, and the mosques are calling on God for help. The humanitarian situation is bad because we cannot even help our injured. We have no idea if the monitors will visit Deir Ezzor.”
Terrorists set off a car bomb that killed a school teacher in the city of Aleppo Thursday, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. The report said the attackers targeted “national expertise.” Syrian authorities say terrorists have been targeting educators, engineers, and medical personnel during the crisis.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the killing of a man in an Aleppo car bombing, but didn’t identify him.
CNN cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths within Syria, as the government has restricted access by international media.
The ongoing carnage, the opposition says, is proof that al-Assad does not intend to keep his promises. Al-Assad has previously reneged on pledges to end the violence.
“It’s like all the other lies before, and an excuse for the government to regroup and hunt down the wanted,” said Capt. Ismail, a rebel commander.
Even as France said the peace plan should be given a chance to take hold, it questioned whether it was a possibility.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said if Annan’s peace plan fails, “we cannot continue to allow the regime to defy us.”
“We’d have to move into a new phase with a Chapter 7 resolution to stop this tragedy,” Juppe said.
Such a move allows the Security Council to take action that can include the use of military force.
The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have since died in the conflict, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.