News / Middle East

Syrian Activists: At Least 78 Killed Near Hama

Anti-government protesters carry the body of Yaser Raqieh, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Hama June 5, 2012. Anti-government protesters carry the body of Yaser Raqieh, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Hama June 5, 2012.
x
Anti-government protesters carry the body of Yaser Raqieh, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Hama June 5, 2012.
Anti-government protesters carry the body of Yaser Raqieh, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Hama June 5, 2012.
Syrian activists say pro-government militia and security forces have killed at least 78 people, including women and children, in the central province of Hama. They say some of those killed in the villages of al-Kubeir and Maazarif Wednesday were stabbed to death and at least 12 bodies were burned.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said militiamen armed with guns and knives carried out the attack after regular troops had shelled the area.

The Observatory described a similar pattern of events as recounted from the May 25 Houla massacre in which 108 Syrian civilians were murdered, nearly half of them children. That incident has provoked international outrage.

Activists called for an immediate investigation. There was no comment from the Syrian government, and events on the ground are difficult to verify as Syria tightly restricts access to international media.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials are warning Syria and its backers that tougher international action against President Bashar al-Assad's government could follow unless Damascus demonstrates "meaningful compliance" with U.N efforts to end the violence.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday the administration and its allies could soon tighten sanctions against the Syrian government and its leaders. He spoke to representatives from 55 countries gathered in Washington to discuss increasing pressure on Assad and his top officials.

"Strong sanctions, effectively implemented, aggressively enforced, can help deprive the Syrian regime of the resources it needs to sustain itself and to continue its repression of the Syrian people. Strong sanctions make clear to the Syrian business community and other supporters of the regime, their future is bleak so long as the Assad regime remains in power," he said.

Geithner said the U.S. would ask, if necessary, to invoke "Chapter 7" of the United Nations charter - a measure that could authorize the use of force. "We, the United States, hope that all responsible nations will soon join in taking appropriate economic actions against the Syrian regime, including, if necessary, Chapter 7 action in the U.N. Security Council as called for by the Arab League last weekend," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey listens to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul June 6, 2012.Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey listens to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul June 6, 2012.
x
Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey listens to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul June 6, 2012.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey listens to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul June 6, 2012.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Geithner's call to choke the Syrian government's "economic lifelines" as she headed into a strategy session in Istanbul with key regional powers to discuss how to halt the violence in Syria and remove Assad from power.

Clinton said Wednesday "sanctions are specifically pointed at members of the regime and its war machine - they do not target the Syrian people and do not apply to supplies of critical goods." She said President Assad leaving power is not necessarily a condition for starting a political transition, but that must be its outcome.

Also Wednesday, U.N. diplomats said international envoy Kofi Annan will present the Security Council with a new proposal later this week to rescue his failing peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought the country to the brink of civil war.

They said Annan's new plan would establish a "contact group" for Syria that would include the five permanent members of the Council and key regional players with influence on Damascus or the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran. The group would attempt to map out a "political transition" leading to Assad's departure and the holding of free elections.

An unnamed envoy leaked further details of Annan's proposal to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote that if the contact group agreed on a transition deal for Syria, it would mean "Assad would presumably depart for Russia, which is said to have offered him exile." According to Ignatius, Iran is also said to have offered exile to Assad and his family.

In China, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed to follow up on the contact group idea, saying nations exerting influence over Syrian opposition groups should join an international gathering to rescue Annan's faltering cease-fire deal. Russia is a longtime ally of the Assad government and has blamed his opponents for much of Syria's violence. China and Russia issued a statement Wednesday saying they are "decisively" against military intervention in Syria and regime change.

Secretary Clinton reacted cooly to Lavrov's proposal for a meeting on Syria that would include Iran, saying it is "a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime's assault on its people."

The State Department has said Iran's paramilitary Quds Force is training Syrian militia, like those who Washington believes responsible for last month's killing of civilians in Houla. Clinton meets with Kofi Annan on Friday.

As Western pressure continues, Assad appointed a loyalist Baath party member as the country's new prime minister Wednesday, the latest step of what the president has called a political reform process. State media said the prime minister-designate, Riad Farid Hijab, will form Syria's next government.

Snowiss reported from Washington and Stearns from Istanbul.

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

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid