At least 21 reported dead in Syria clashes


ANTI-REGIME PROTESTS erupted following noon Muslim prayers yesterday in the suburbs of Damascus, the central cities of Homs and Hama, the southern province of Deraa and the northern region of Idlib. Local committees organising opposition rallies reported that at least 21 people were killed.

The official news agency Sana said two children were killed and a third was injured in the explosion of a device planted by “an armed terrorist” group in Idlib. Sana also reported that two security officers were wounded by a bomb in Hama province and that a diesel tanker was hijacked by “terrorists”.

The demonstrations were called by opposition groups to mark the anniversary of an assault 30 years ago on Muslim Brotherhood fighters holed up in Hama. The crackdown back then, in which Amnesty International estimates up to 25,000 people died, was ordered by President Bashar al-Assad’s father.

In a central square in sunny, sleepy Damascus, several hundred government supporters raised flags and chanted pro-regime slogans. Youngsters in four-wheel- drive vehicles cruised round the capital hooting horns.

They were followed by three lads on a sagging motor bike, the boy perched precariously over the rear wheel and beating a drum. A tall cloaked man carrying a large flag strode down the main thoroughfare.

The clashes and demonstrations coincided with efforts by western and Arab governments to secure the adoption by the UN Security Council of a resolution aimed at halting the violence in Syria. Morocco, the author of the original text, drew up a new draft and circulated it for consideration.

However, Russia continues to object to clauses in the draft. Deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said there was no question of voting on it at present. “We still have a . . . number of concerns . . . and we are ready to con- tinue consultations,” he said.

Moscow objects to clauses that suggest regime change and leave open the possibility of external military intervention. China, a second veto-wielding power, also opposes the resolution while India and South Africa have expressed reservations. Human Rights Watch has accused Syrian security forces of detaining, shooting and torturing at least 12 children, some as young as 13, during the rebellion, which began 11 months ago. The head of the regional delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Juan Luis Coderque Galligo, has expressed concern over the consequences of sanctions on the Syrian population.