News / Middle East

Dozens Killed in Syria as UN Calls for Cease-Fire

Overview of the U.N. Human Rights Council during the emergency debate on human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria, at the United Nations in Geneva, February 28, 2012
Overview of the U.N. Human Rights Council during the emergency debate on human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria, at the United Nations in Geneva, February 28, 2012

Syrian rights groups said government troops killed at least 41 civilians Tuesday throughout Syria, including 20 in an assault on the central town of Helfaya, near the protest hub of Hama. The assault came as the United Nations human rights chief called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

Witnesses in the Baba Amr district of Homs said an intense barrage of artillery shells rained down on the area Tuesday in the 25th day of attacks.

Opposition sources in the besieged city told Reuters that tanks from the Syrian army's elite Fourth Division, controlled by Mr. Assad's brother, Maher, had moved onto the streets.

Syrian army defectors smuggled wounded British photographer Paul Conroy out of Homs to safety in neighboring Lebanon. Conroy's father said his wife had spoken with their son and described him as being in "good spirits."

French sources told pan-Arab television that wounded journalist Edith Bouvier was also taken to Beirut. The two were hurt last week during an attack that killed Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

In Geneva, rights chief Navi Pillay told the U.N. Human Rights Council that the international community must take action to prevent Syrian troops from continuing to assault civilians, which she said has resulted in "countless atrocities." She urged Syria to end all fighting, allow international monitors into the country and grant access to aid agencies in Homs and other embattled cities.

Opposition videos showed government tanks and artillery attacking the town of Helfaya, near Syria's fourth largest city of Hama, north of Homs. An opposition activist inside Helfaya, speaking on Al-Jazeera TV, implored the outside world to help stop the offensive, urging them “to please not leave us to die.”

Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad of the opposition Free Syrian Army, who is based in Turkey, urged the outside world to help arm the rebel forces fighting against Syria's government.  Opposition leader Haitham al-Maleh said Monday that he was forming a new wing of the opposition Syrian National Council in order to help arm the Free Syrian Army.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said Saudi Arabia is also trying to convince the West to help arm the rebels.

He said the Saudis are criticizing what they call "weak" and "hypocritical" attitudes from the international community. He said the Saudis are angry with Russia and China for vetoing action in the U.N. Security Council that would have increased pressure on the Syrian government. He said the Saudis too are irritated with the West for not doing more to end the violence.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabber al-Thani urged foreign governments Monday to help arm the Free Syrian Army.

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