Sunday 25 February 2018

Syrian army hits key city as UN condemns attacks

Jon Swaine in New York

SYRIA'S security forces tightened their siege of a key city last night as the United Nations Security Council looked poised to agree a statement criticising the crackdown on protesters by President Bashar al-Assad. Tanks rolled into the centre of Hama, a hub of protest activity about 130 miles north of Damascus.

The city's electricity, water and phone lines were cut, and a central square was occupied by security forces. Residents stayed in their homes to avoid government snipers. Fresh explosions were reported, while the al-Hader neighbourhood was said to be under tank shelling.

Machine-gun fire was reportedly heard in parts of the city and clouds of smoke hung over many buildings. Suheir Atassi, a prominent pro-democracy activist, said the city was being "collectively punished".

At least 1,700 people have died since March in demonstrations against the rule of Mr Assad.

Human rights groups say 3,000 people are missing, and 12,000 have been imprisoned.

In New York, a text agreed by UN ambassadors said that the Security Council's 15 members "condemn widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities".

It called on Syria "to fully respect human rights and to comply with their obligations under applicable international law" and said: "Those responsible for the violence should be held accountable".

But it was a watered-down version of a formal resolution first proposed by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal almost two months ago, which was repeatedly blocked by eastern members of the Security Council. The text was expected to be released as a non-binding "presidential statement".

However, confusion remained over the position of Lebanon, which had said it could not support any criticism of Damascus.

Presidential statements are understood to be on behalf of all members, and no member has ever disassociated itself from one.

At the demand of countries including Russia, Brazil and India, the text also controversially called on "all sides" to "act with utmost restraint", and "refrain from reprisals, including attacks against state institutions", stopping short of equating protesters with the government forces.

Despite its ambassador appearing to play a lacklustre part in efforts to secure the Security Council action, the US stepped up its rhetoric against the Syrian regime, and said it was considering new ways to increase pressure on its leadership. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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