The Syrian authorities on Wednesday ordered airstrikes close to the tense Turkish border for the third consecutive day, and said a French decision to recognize and consider arming a newly formed coalition of Syrian government opponents was an “immoral” act “encouraging the destruction of Syria.”
“This is an immoral position because it allows the killing of Syrians,” said Faisal al-Miqdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, according to Agence France-Presse. “They are supporting killers, terrorists, and they are encouraging the destruction of Syria.”
On Tuesday, France became the first Western nation to fully embrace the new umbrella organization, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which came together last weekend under Western pressure after days of difficult negotiations in Doha, Qatar.
On Wednesday, President François Hollande of France invited the leader of the group, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, to Paris for talks, Reuters reported.
Conflict in Syria burst over the borders into neighboring Lebanon and Turkey on Monday, with one Lebanese cameraman killed, and at least four people, two Syrian and two Turkish, injured in fighting on the Syrian-Turkish border.
The violence, on the eve of the deadline of a fading U.N.-backed deal for Syrian troops to withdraw from cities and cease hostilities against a widespread uprising, provoked strong responses from Lebanese and Turkish officials and heightened already tense regional relations.
The Free Syrian Army: Defected soldiers and civilians make up Syria’s main opposition army group.
The developments came as the U.S. State Department said the Syrian government was trying to “stall for time” with its demand for a written guarantee that opposition forces would disarm before it withdraws troops from cities and towns.
Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati used Twitter to send condolences for the death of Ali Shaaban, part of a three-man crew with Lebanese television channel al-Jadeed, which was filming in the Wadi Khaled area of Lebanon on the country’s northern border with Syria.
The two surviving journalists, Hussein Khrais and Abdul Aziem Khayat, said in interviews with Lebanese media that they were in a car in Lebanon, filming and taking notes, when men in civilian clothes began shooting at them from the Syrian side of the border and continued to fire for two hours. Lebanese security forces then were able to rescue them, the journalists said.
Khrais said in a telephone interview that he was unable to identify whether the attackers were armed opponents of the government of president Bashar al-Assad or Syrian government forces. Mikati said via Twitter that he planned to inform Syrian authorities that he condemned the act, and that the Lebanese army would investigate the incident.
In Turkey, violence broke out as a group of dozens of Syrians - some wounded - sought to become the latest of more than 20,000 refugees to flee across the Turkish border, crossing near the Turkish village of Killis, north of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Syrian authorities are systematically detaining and torturing children, the United Nations’ human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has told the BBC.
Ms Pillay said President Bashar al-Assad could end the detentions and stop the killing of civilians immediately, simply by issuing an order.
Syria has accepted a peace plan, amid scepticism about its intentions.
Most opposition groups have now agreed that the Syrian National Council will formally represent the Syrian people.
Navi Pillay, in an interview with the BBC before Syria accepted the plan, said the Syrian leader would face justice for the abuses carried out by his security forces.
Asked if President Assad bore command responsibility for the abuses, she said: “That is the legal situation. Factually there is enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces [and] must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level.
“Because President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop.”
“It’s like moving people from death to life,” says Raed Saleh, 27, describing the process of helping his fellow Syrians flee into Turkey. From his base at a refugee tent camp near Bosheen, a small Turkish village less than a mile away from the border, Saleh manages a network of lookouts and smugglers who alert him whenever a new group is en route. He doesn’t speak Turkish himself, Saleh says, so he relies on another friend to phone the Turkish border guards before any refugees attempt to cross.
The Turks have been a great help, Saleh says, providing minibuses and ambulances, and ferrying the Syrians to one of the six camps scattered along the border. They have also become a deterrent. Syrian government soldiers, who have been known to fire at refugees, tend to think twice when a Turkish border guard is in sight.
(PHOTOS: Syrians Flee into Turkey)
Saleh has no complaints about conditions inside the camps. “The food is fine, the tents are fine, and we manage to keep warm in the winter,” he says. “And most importantly, we are all safe.” Nearly 11,000 Syrians reside in the camps, with the number expected to rise in the coming days as a fresh wave of violence propels more refugees toward Turkey’s doorstep. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has pledged that his country’s doors will remain open “to all Syrians who want to flee from oppression.”
Yet more rows of tents come into view a short drive from Bosheen, past half-built houses and flooded fields (the Syrian authorities have reportedly opened the dams on the Asi River, turning a rivulet into a swelling lake and an additional obstacle). The tents are the headquarters of Colonel Riad al-Asaad and other leaders of up to 40,000 antiregime rebels known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Turkey keeps a tight lid over al-Asaad, limiting his communication with media and restricting access to his camp. Perhaps with good reason. On March 1, a Turkish newspaper reported that the country’s intelligence service had foiled an attempt by Syrian agents to kidnap the colonel.
For months, speculation has been rife that aside from sheltering the FSA leadership Turkey may be arming and training the rebels. Ayham al-Kurdi could only wish that the rumors were true. “All the help we received to date was to be allowed to be based in Turkey, nothing more,” says al-Kurdi, 30, a rebel commander, over tea and cigarettes at an office on the outskirts of Antakya. “The Turkish government is undecided as to what to do,” he complains. “Our wish is that they come to a decision.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has been stopped from bringing medical supplies and humanitarian aid to a battered district of the Syrian city of Homs. The aid delivery was planned after a tactical retreat by opposition forces on Thursday. The United Nations’ human rights office says it received unconfirmed reports of 17 executions after government forces moved into the area.
Pan-Arab television channels showed hundreds of anti-government protesters in the streets of a Homs district Friday, denouncing the government’s storming of the nearby Baba Amr area.
The United Nations and a rights group reported that Baba Amr residents were killed in reprisal after government forces moved into the the district following a retreat Thursday by rebel soldiers.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that a convoy of seven trucks carrying aid was in Homs, ready to enter Baba Amr, but was stopped.
Syrian authorities had given ICRC permission on Thursday to take in aid. But opposition activists say the government is holding up the operation and the ICRC called the delay “unacceptable.”
The Syrian military took its bombardment of the rebel-held Baba Amro district of Homs into a fourth week on Saturday as the Red Cross tried to evacuate more distressed civilians from the city.
At least 28 people were killed in Syria on Saturday, including nine in Homs, Syria’s third city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The state news agency SANA reported the funerals of 18 members of the security forces killed by “armed terrorist groups” in Homs, Deraa, Idlib and the Damascus countryside.
Deploring the outcome of an international “Friends of Syria” conference, opposition activists said the world had abandoned them to be killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“They (foreign leaders) are still giving opportunities to this man who is killing us and has already killed thousands of people,” said Nadir Husseini, an activist in Baba Amro.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had resumed negotiations with the Syrian authorities and the opposition to enable more civilians to be brought to safety.
Husseini said people in Baba Amro were suspicious of the ICRC’s local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and did not want to work with a group “under the control of the regime.”
The ICRC denied this, saying the Syrian Red Crescent was an independent organization. “Their volunteers are risking their lives on a daily basis to help everyone with no exceptions,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva.
The ICRC said the Syrian Red Crescent had evacuated a total of 27 people from Baba Amro on Friday.
Four Western journalists, two of whom were wounded in an attack that killed two other foreign journalists on Wednesday have yet to be extracted from the shattered neighborhood.
Syrian forces killed a Lebanese fisherman and wounded another when they seized a boat suspected of smuggling off the Lebanese-Syrian coast on Saturday, a relative said.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said the sailors were smugglers and that Syria’s naval patrol tried to stop the boat but was fired on by other nearby Lebanese vessels. It said two of the men on the seized boat were wounded by friendly fire.
The border areas between Lebanon and Syria are known for smuggling, and Syrian security services have become especially sensitive to contraband runs since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 10 months ago.
Syria complains that its neighbors are not clamping down on smuggling of weapons they say are destined for insurgents.
Residents in Lebanon’s northern coastal town of Arida said they heard gunfire offshore but did not see who was shooting. They said they later saw a Syrian boat towing the Lebanese fishing boat toward the nearby Syrian port of Tartous.
Syrian authorities did not report any deaths to SANA but the agency said two wounded sailors were in hospital. It said a third man had been “turned in to concerned authorities.”
“The port patrol warned the infiltrating boat to stop more than once but the crew did not obey orders and instead threw their cargo overboard and tried to escape toward northern Lebanon,” SANA said.
An attempt was made to force the adoption of UN Security Council resolution on Syria.
“But our friends - Russia and China, as well as India and Brazil, prevented it,” he said, adding that adoption of the resolution would result in catastrophic consequences for Syria.
At the same time, Mamun Hariri stressed that position of some countries is surprising. Among these countries, the diplomat named Qatar and Turkey, as well as the position of the League of Arab States.
All this is a result of pressure and blackmail from the West and the Gulf countries, the diplomat said. According to him, the current situation, especially the recent blasts are of terrorist character.
“This indicates that the program is carried out against Syria aimed at undermining stability in the country,” stressed Hariri, accusing Al Qaeda of organizing terrorist attacks.
The only way out is to establish dialogue, to correct mistakes and to bring to justice those responsible.
Syrian diplomat thanked the Government and people of Armenia for “supporting Syria in this difficult time.” In this context, he also pointed out the presence of a large Armenian Diaspora in Syria.
Asked about the forecasts for 2012, Mamoun Hariri noted that the Syrian authorities are sparing no effort to continue already established dialogue with the opposition to make a decision acceptable to all the segments of population and put an end to discord.
Syrian authorities have moved perhaps hundreds of detainees to military sites to hide them from Arab League monitors assessing whether the government is upholding a commitment to end its crackdown on protesters, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
“Syria has shown it will stop at nothing to undermine independent monitoring of its crackdown,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Syria’s subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear lines regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told The Independent last week that the international monitors could move around the country “under the protection” of the government but would not be permitted to visit sensitive military sites.
HRW said it was told by a Syrian security officer in Homs that his prison director had ordered him to transfer about 400 to 600 detainees from his detention facility to other places.
“The transfers happened in installments,” the official said, according to HRW. “Some detainees were moved in civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out,” the official said, according to HRW.
He said that officials told him the detainees were being taken to a military missile factory in Zaidal, outside of Homs.
Other witnesses corroborated his account, HRW said.