UN chief urges end to bloodshed in Syria


UN SECRETARY general Ban Ki-moon yesterday called on the Syrian government to halt the bloodshed in the country and fulfil its responsibilities to its people as Syrian forces shelled a village in the Houla area, the site of a massacre of 108 civilians last Friday.

“We are there to record violations and to speak out so that the perpetrators of crimes may be held to account,” he said. “We are not there to play the role of passive observer of unspeakable atrocities.”

But even as he spoke, the commander and founder of Syria’s main armed rebel group urged him to declare that his seven-week-old ceasefire plan had failed.

Col Riad al-Asaad, who is based in Turkey, also highlighted divisions with Free Syrian Army officers inside Syria when he dismissed their 48-hour deadline for him to comply with the plan.

“There is no deadline, but we want Kofi Annan to issue a declaration announcing the failure of this plan so that we would be free to carry out any military operation against the regime,” Col Asaad told Al Jazeera television.

He said rebel forces had so far honoured the plan. Nearly 300 UN monitors have been deployed in Syria and are reporting directly to the UN on violations by both sides in the short-lived ceasefire.

Mr Ban warned that the massacre could “plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war . . . from which the country would never recover”.

A resolution before the UN Human Rights Council, due to meet today, condemns the “attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings of a residential neighbourhood”.

The text calls on the authorities to “put an immediate end to all violence and all human rights violations”, states that those responsible should be held accountable, and calls for an independent commission of inquiry to be established.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi denied the involvement of government forces and blamed armed elements from outside the Houla area for the atrocities. Residents reported that following the shelling, which killed about 20 people, pro-government militiamen entered the village and massacred entire families in their homes. The government also announced the release of 500 de- tainees “without blood on their hands” who had been arrested for joining protests.

While western powers are pressing Syrian rebel and opposition groups to unite around a single programme and leader, rebels have castigated exiles who speak for the Free Syrian Army, deepening divisions between fighters on the ground and commanders based in Turkey.

Col Kassem Saadeddine, spokesman of the Free Syrian Army, said, “Nobody has the right to issue press releases, take decisions, or speak about operations in the . . . army’s name, except for the [army] command inside Syria.”

He was responding to the denial by Col Assad that rebels had announced they would stop observing the UN-brokered truce at midday today if the government failed to halt operations and pull its troops out of urban areas.

Col Assad said, “There is no ultimatum but we hope joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan announces his peace plan’s failure so that we do not take the blame for any future operations against the regime.”

Mr Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, dismissed this idea. “The Annan plan does not belong to Kofi Annan. It belongs to the parties that have accepted it and the international community that has endorsed it. So a failure of the Annan plan would be the failure of the international community to solve this peacefully. If anyone has a better plan they should come up with it.”