News / Middle East

Clinton Challenges Russia on Syria

An image grab taken from a video released by the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria shows smoke rising following shelling from the central flashpoint city of Homs on June 11, 2012. An image grab taken from a video released by the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria shows smoke rising following shelling from the central flashpoint city of Homs on June 11, 2012.
An image grab taken from a video released by the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria shows smoke rising following shelling from the central flashpoint city of Homs on June 11, 2012.
An image grab taken from a video released by the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria shows smoke rising following shelling from the central flashpoint city of Homs on June 11, 2012.
Mark SnowissEdward Yeranian
CAIRO - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the U.S. is concerned about reports Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syria.

She also said Russia's claims that its arms shipments to Syria are unrelated to the conflict are "patently untrue." She said the U.S. has confronted Russia about stopping its continued arms transfers to the country.

Her comments come as Syrian rights groups say at least 34 people were killed Tuesday as government forces continued attacks on rebel strongholds, and U.N. monitors reported an angry mob prevented them from reaching the embattled western town of al-Haffeh.

The Local Coordination Committees, an activist group with members throughout Syria, said the casualties include 14 civilians dead in Deir al-Zour, 10 in Homs and eight in Aleppo. A number of government soldiers were among those killed.

Also Tuesday, news agencies quoted United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous as saying he believes Syria is now in a full-scale civil war, with a "massive increase in the level of violence."

But U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky backed away from that characterization, telling reporters later "it is not for the U.N. to designate in that way." Nesirky, however, did confirm "a qualitative shift and intensification" of the violence in Syria.

Video footage from Syria

Escalation in al-Haffeh

The U.N. mission in Syria said a crowd of what appeared to be local residents in al-Haffeh surrounded U.N. observers and threw rocks and metal bars at their vehicles, firing gunshots at them as they left the area. None of the observers was injured.

The United States has indicated it fears Syrian forces are planning to massacre civilians in the town.

LCC spokeswoman Rafif Jouejati said rebel fighters in al-Haffeh have been attempting to smuggle trapped civilians over the nearby Turkish border.

"We know there were some 30,000 residents trapped in the town of al-Haffeh and we also know members of the Free Syrian Army were trying to help residents flee the area and get transported to Turkey and that a small number of residents have been safely transported, but there are still thousands of residents trapped," she said.

Clashes began last week when security forces initiated their attempt to capture the strategic Sunni Muslim town, located close to the port city of Latakia and the Turkish border - and used by rebels as an active smuggling route for people and supplies.

Hundreds of rebels are facing a continued tank and helicopter-backed assault in al-Haffeh. The helicopter attacks - confirmed by the U.N. on Monday - are regarded as a significant escalation by government forces.

Jouejati said that helicopter shelling and other aerial attacks by government forces have been occurring for months across Syria.

Contact Group

A spokesman for international envoy Kofi Annan, Ahmad Fawzi, said Tuesday that an international "contact group" will meet soon to discuss how to pressure Syria's government and opposition groups to implement the U.N.-Arab League envoy's tattered peace plan.

"What is lacking is implementation and that is why we count on these member states with influence on the parties during this meeting and as a result of this meeting to put irrevocable pressure on the parties to implement the plan and stop the killing and begin a political transition," he said.

No venue, date or list of participants for the meeting has been set.

The contact group meeting has been in doubt because of Western opposition to Syrian ally Iran's involvement. The Iranian foreign ministry Tuesday welcomed a Russian proposal for Iran to be included despite strong reservations from the United States, France and Britain.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he continues to hope for a peaceful solution.

"I don't think we can rule out options, but the only option we are advocating and trying to bring about at this moment is the implementation of the Annan plan and a peaceful transition in Syria," he said.

But former U.N. official Mark Malloch-Brown, who worked closely with Annan at the U.N., echoed sentiments that Syria is on the verge of, if not already in, a state of civil war.

“The difference between civil war or near civil war is at times like this so slight, that the distinction almost loses meaning," he said. "But the fact is, hits by the [pro-government] Alawite militias on innocent civilians in Sunni villages, have now prompted tit-for-tat hits against Alawite civilians in other parts of the country. So you have got the whole escalating process of sectarian on sectarian violence which is really the essence of a civil war.”

Child Victims

On Monday, the United Nations accused Syrian security forces and pro-government "shabiha" militias of committing serious rights violations against children, including using them as human shields.

The report also said children have been "victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence."

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said the U.N. Security Council should impose an arms embargo and other targeted sanctions on the Syrian leadership in response to the abuses described in the report. It said Syrian children are paying a "horrendous price" in the conflict.

Analyst Hilal Khashan at the American University of Beirut said it appears the Syrian government is losing control of large parts of the country.

"The insurgency has spread throughout the country and the regime is now frantic," he said. "They are doing all they can do in order to redress the situation and the only way they know how to react is brutally and they don't mind bringing the country to civil war."

Syrian state TV said on Tuesday that government forces near the port city of Latakia were "chasing bands of terrorists" who were "destroying government buildings and terrorizing local residents." The report also said that "armed terrorists" stopped two buses carrying civilians near the Lebanese border.

Andre De Nesnera contributed to this report from Washington and Lisa Schlein from Geneva.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: HJRR from: USA
June 13, 2012 1:24 PM
Personally, I would not help any rebels screaming "ALLAH U AKBAR"... can't they think of something else to say, perhaps "Long Live Syria" or "Give us Freedom or Give us Death". However, if Syria is the cross-roads of Iranian funded/aided terrorism into Lebanon (Hezbollah) being used against Israel; then why we don't make a deal with the rebels and support them is absurd. Obama tossed Mubarak of Egypt under the bus and he was an ALLAY. Why doesn't Obama say the say about Bashar al-Assad?

by: NVO from: USA
June 12, 2012 9:16 PM
Clinton is a NEW WORLD ORDER DRONE, pushing for a ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT. She is a member of The BILDERBERGS, The Council On Foreign Relations, The Trilateral Commission. She is a proponent of GMO in food for population reduction, and is proponent of MICROCHIPPING all people by 2017. Wake up people!!! The BANKS control the MEDIA.

by: Oyajy from: Syria
June 12, 2012 6:37 PM
What is this rotten world, Russia is breaking all world attempts to take action against Syrian dire situation what a joke. Syria my mom please don't cry, we will sacrifice ourselves to make you free, beauty as always and civil forever, and we will send Assad and his Shabbiha to hell

by: Mike
June 12, 2012 4:19 PM
The Obama administration says Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and is warning about a dramatic escalation in the Arab country's 15-month conflict.
The news and other reports suggest a negative role of Russia in the Syrian events. It is the fault of Russia in Syria intensified civil war and in the hands of the Russian Tsar Putin the blood of Syrian children. It's time for the U.S. and Europe to take military action to eliminate the terrorist dictator Assad and help to the Syrian people in the liberation of their country.

by: Benesophia from: USA
June 12, 2012 2:48 PM
Tony...Thank you for being a beacon of light in a pool of blind ignorance. Everyone staying on top of this world event should by now realize the aggressors are the "West trained" militias that murder women and children (YES...Homs was a village of Alawite Muslims, NO Assad did not murder them, it was the rebels (FSA). Open your eyes and realize who is actually responsible for War Crimes Against Humanity!

by: Anonymous
June 12, 2012 1:13 PM
IF Assad is guilty as it appears to the world, why the heck isn't he charged already for War Crimes Against Humanity? Why don't the western countries put up a REWARD for his capture? A nice reward would have him captured in no time, plus save Syria.

by: Anonymous
June 12, 2012 1:09 PM
No wonder Middle Eastern people dislike the West. We are certainly not winning the hearts and minds of those in Syria, who are subject to genocide. Inaction is creating hatred I would naturally assume. I am disgusted by my governments choice of inaction in this matter. Please Syrians do not be upset with the Western people, it is our governments that make the decisions. Our government is holding off because of Russia and China, these are the real problem behind our governments decision to do nothing.

by: george pavlakis from: las vegas nv
June 12, 2012 12:17 PM
USA said that the UN must impose an arms embargo and sanctions against the Syrian army.
When the UN will impose SANCTIONS Against the USA for killing civilians in AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN every day???
Every day the US forces make the statememts that they made a mistake that killed Children and women in the bombings in Pakistan.
Sooner the USA Proud forces killed hundred thousands of women and children in IRAQ WILL do the same in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
WHERE THE HELL IS THE UN to protect the civilians??
Where the HELL is The UN to protect the women and children of PALESTINE???

by: Anonymous
June 12, 2012 11:20 AM
I think anyone dealing with current issues like this is also looking for ways to handle their future, finances, and even retirement in successful ways. One interesting story I found today that talked about this issue is an intriguing write-up about a wealthy boss that decided to do something different with his career. He left Newmont Mining, a $6.5B company, to join a tiny mining company. Very inspiring story that dovetails many of the themes here, I figured you might like it:

by: Carter
June 12, 2012 11:15 AM
David you trying to put religious views on this its self is "foolish" as you would say, are you kidding me? Well when jesus doesnt come to help because a schizophrenic that wrote the bible cant come back from the dead to start smiting people, Humanity will still be fighting with there Guns and knifes until that one bomb to end it all drops. thats jesus, the nuclear explosion that wipes out life except the Cockroach Government in there bunkers. Oh and some bugs.
This is people fighting people. and its not gunna stop until one side eliminates the other.
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