UN meet reveals divisions amid Syria criticism | News | DW | 12.03.2012
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UN meet reveals divisions amid Syria criticism

Western powers have joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in maintaining their harsh rhetoric against Syria whilst praising other Arab states for political and democratic changes since the Arab Spring uprisings.

At a Monday UN Security Council debate on the challenges from last year's Arab Spring revolutions, Ban said the Syrian government had "failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect its own people and instead has subjugated citizens in several cities to military assault and disproportionate use of force."

The United States and Russia - veto-wielding members of the Security Council - both called for an end to the bloody year-long conflict, but on different terms.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lambasted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for ordering strikes on rebels in Hama, Homs and Rastan whilst meeting with joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan over the weekend.

Watch video 01:42

UN chief calls for end to violence in Syria

She also took aim at China and Russia, which have vetoed Security Council resolutions against the Assad regime and called for rebukes of the government to be balanced with criticism of the opposition movement.

"We reject any equivalence between premeditated murders by a government's military machine and the actions of civilians under siege driven to self-defense," Clinton said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian authorities must "bear a huge share of responsibility" but reiterated his country's position that rebel fighters and extremists including al Qaeda were also committing atrocities.

Smoke rises from the Jab Al-Jandli district of Homs

Homs has been under attack for weeks

Lavrov condemned "hasty demands for regime change, imposing unilateral sanctions designed to trigger economic difficulties and social tensions in the country, inducing the opposition to continue its confrontation with authorities instead of promoting dialogue."

Civilians suffering

Meanwhile, UN special investigator Paulo Pinheiro told a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Monday of the extent of civilian suffering as a result of the ongoing violence in Syria.

"The exodus continues to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The desperate situation of civilians needs to be addressed as a matter of utmost urgency," he said.

"The intensification of armed confrontations has widened the trail of suffering," said Pinheiro, who heads the Council's independent panel looking into the situation in Syria. His group has not been granted access to Syria, however.

The panel has found that Syria's government has collectively punished civilians and carried out executions and mass arrests in Baba Amr, a district of Homs. A month of shelling by government forces had resulted in utter devastation for the urban center, Pinheiro added.

A Syrian man and his grandchildren, who fled from Syria, are seen at a temporary home in the village of Saadnayel

Many Syrians are fleeing to neighboring countries such as Lebanon

"Those who fled the area reported summary executions and mass arbitrary arrest campaigns," he told the Council.

According to reports, the remains of between 12 and 50 Syrians, including those of woman and children, were found in Homs on Monday. Many were found to have traces of torture. Some had their throats cut, activists said. The Syrian opposition has accused Syrian gunmen of the "massacre," whilst state television attributed the killings to "armed terrorist gangs."

Syria's own envoy to the UN proceedings in Geneva leveled accusations at Israel of supplying arms to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad regime.

Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi told the Council that Israel was funneling weapons to rebel groups and foreign fighters linked with "al Qaeda which has penetrated the country from 13 different countries."

The UN estimates that more than 7,500 people have been killed in the year since civil unrest began in Syria.

dfm/sjt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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