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Syrians Fleeing City of Homs, New Opposition Leader Calls for Mass Defection from Regime



Syria's new opposition leader calls for mass defection

By FRANCE 24 (video) News Wires (text)

June 11, 2012, AFP -

The new head of Syria's main opposition group has called for mass defections from a regime he says is "on its last legs" after a series of massacres, as the death toll in the uprising tops 14,000.

Similar calls were made by the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which also urged a campaign of mass "civil disobedience" to ratchet up internal pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's beleaguered regime.

"We are entering a sensitive phase. The regime is on its last legs," Kurdish activist Abdel Basset Sayda told AFP on Sunday shortly after being named the new leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).

"The multiplying massacres and shellings show that it is struggling," he said of mass deaths of civilians, the most recent of which saw 20 people, mostly women and children, killed in a bombardment of the southern city of Daraa Saturday.

At his first news conference since taking over the reins, Sayda called on all members of the Damascus regime to defect, while reaching out to minority groups by promising them a full say in a future, democratic Syria.

"We call upon all officials in the regime and in the institutions to defect from the regime," Sayda told reporters in Istanbul.

The FSA, meanwhile, called for a campaign of civil disobedience and urged officers and troops in Assad's military to jump ship and join the rebel ranks.

"We call on Syrians to launch a general strike leading to mass civil disobedience," FSA spokesman in Syria Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said in a statement.

He urged officers and men in Syria's regular army "whose hands are not tainted with blood to join the fighters."

New SNC chief Sayda replaced Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun, who stepped down last month in the face of mounting splits that were undermining the group's credibility.

Activists accused Ghalioun of ignoring the Local Coordination Committees, which spearhead anti-government protests on the ground in Syria, and of giving the Muslim Brotherhood too big a role.

Sayda, 55, has lived in exile in Sweden for two decades and is seen as a consensus candidate capable of reconciling the rival factions within the SNC and of broadening its appeal among Syria's myriad of ethnic and confessional groups.

He is not in any political party, and SNC officials call him a "conciliatory" figure, "honest" and "independent."

Sayda reached out to minority groups in Syria, following criticism of the SNC for failing to represent the country's full array of ethnic and religious groups including Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and others.

"We would like to reassure all sects and groups, especially Alawites and Christians, that the future of Syria will be for the all of us," he said.

"The Annan plan still exists but it has not been implemented," Sayda said of a peace blueprint thrashed out by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12 but which has been violated daily.

"We will work for this plan to be included under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to force the regime to implement it and to leave all options open," Sayda said.

Chapter VII allows for sanctions and, in extreme cases, military action.

Russia and China, infuriated by the NATO campaign in Libya last year, have vowed to oppose any military intervention, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague refused on Sunday to rule out the possibility.

"We don't know how things are going to develop. Syria is on the edge of a collapse or of a sectarian civil war, and so I don't think we can rule anything out," Hague told Sky News television.

He likened the situation to that of Bosnia in the 1990s; "on the edge of a sectarian conflict in which neighbouring villages are attacking and killing each other."

The violence has intensified despite the presence of 300 United Nations observers charged with monitoring the putative truce.

At least 57 people were killed nationwide on Sunday -- 37 civilians, 16 soldiers, three army deserters and one rebel fighter -- the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Observatory reported.

The previous day at least 111 people -- 83 civilians and 28 soldiers -- were killed in one of the heaviest single-day death tolls since the nominal start of the ceasefire, the Observatory said.

The latest deaths bring to more than 14,100 the number of people killed since March last year, including 9,862 civilians, 3,470 soldiers and 783 army deserters, the Observatory said.

Syrians fleeing homes on 'daily basis': Red Cross

By News Wires (text)

June 9, 2012, Reuters, France 24 -

More and more Syrian civilians are being forced to flee their homes to escape fighting between government troops and rebels, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday.

Sick or wounded people are also finding it difficult to reach medical services while food, especially bread, is becoming more scarce, according to the humanitarian agency, the only international organisation deploying aid workers in Syria.

UN to discuss 'contact group' to influence both sides in conflict

AP - Annan said on Friday that preliminary discussions are taking place about establishing a “contact group” comprising countries that could influence both sides in the Syrian conflict to end the violence. The group would likely comprise world and regional powers, including Iran.

“If they could come together and look at the problems in a coldly realistic manner ... and say let’s cooperate and suggest a roadmap for the Syrians to consider and work really to steer everybody in the same direction ... we may make progress,” Annan said.

The ICRC reiterated its assessment that civil war - what it calls non-international armed conflict - has erupted in some areas at times, including Homs earlier this year.

“The ICRC has clearly said that in certain parts of the country at certain moments, it is a non-international armed conflict, which means that certain rules of international humanitarian law regarding the treatment of civilians and detainees must be applied,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Currently the situation is extremely tense not only in Houla, not only in Hama, but in many, many places around the country,” he said, referring to sites of recent massacres of civilians.

He cited clashes in Idlib, rural Idlib, rural Damascus, and Hama and to a lesser extent rural Aleppo, Deraa in the south, Deir-al-Zor in the northeast and Latakia in the coastal area.

“This leads simply to the fact people are still being displaced on a daily basis,” Hassan said.

The ICRC, working alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has provided food rations and medical supplies to 400,000 of the 1.5 million people whom it estimates are directly or indirectly affected by the conflict and drought in the northeast, he said.


It aims to assist 100,0000 people every month and currently has access to “almost everywhere” in Syria, he said.

“We’re receiving regularly reports from people facing more and more difficulty in access to essential medical services, and this has increased, to medical treatment, and to food, including bread,” he said.

Many displaced are staying in schools, mosques and churches, but much infrastructure including water systems need urgent repair, Hassan said.

In the past few days, its teams have revisited the battered Baba Amro district of Homs, as well as villages near Houla, where it also provided health care to 250 people after a massacre of 108 people on May 25, he said.

Witnesses have told U.N. investigators that most victims died in summary executions carried out by “shabbiha” militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government has blamed Islamist militants for the killings.

Hassan said that many of the 5,000 people who fled the village of Taldaou in Houla for Bourj al-Qu’i told ICRC workers that they feared for men left behind and that their property had been looted or destroyed.

Volunteers from the Syrian Red Crescent branch in Hama were also trying to reach the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, where opposition activists said 78 people were shot, stabbed, or burned to death this week.

U.N. monitors seeking to reach the site of a reported massacre in Syria sent reinforcements to the area on Friday, after they were turned back and shot at a day earlier.

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