Syrian forces kill 9 deserters, NATO nixes intervention
AFP DAMASCUS SYRIAN forces ambushed and killed nine army deserters in a north Damascus suburb on Monday, a human rights watchdog said, as NATO ruled out military action against the regime of President Bashar al Assad.
The bloodletting also appeared to spill over into neighbouring Lebanon where two people were killed overnight in street battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Beirut, a security official said.
The latest violence in Syria comes after a rocket-propelled grenade exploded on Sunday near UN observers in a Damascus suburb, and at least 48 people were killed elsewhere in the country.
The nine army deserters were killed as they were retreating under cover of darkness from the village of Jisr al Ab near Damascus’s Douma suburb, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based watchdog on Sunday had reported fighting between rebels and regime troops near Douma, during which the RPG exploded near a team of UN military observers. No one was hurt in the Douma blast, which came as UN mission head Major General Robert Mood and peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous were leading observers around the north Damascus suburb.
Heavy fighting also raged overnight between soldiers and rebels in other parts of Damascus province, despite an April 12 truce brokered by envoy Kofi Annan that the UN observers are overseeing.
NATO, which undertook a major air war in Libya to back rebels who fought Moamer Kadhafi’s forces last year, said it has “no intention” of taking military action against Assad’s regime. “We strongly condemn the behaviour of the Syrian security forces and their crackdowns on the Syrian population,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a Chicago summit on Sunday.
“But again NATO has no intention to intervene in Syria.” NATO states have come under criticism for backing the air war in Libya but ruling out military intervention in Syria, where opposition demonstrators and badly outgunned rebels have been hammered by heavily-armed regime forces.
After Sunday’s Douma blast, Ladsous said: “I think this is clearly one of these situations where it is absolutely imperative that all parties exercise restraint and do not engage in any more fighting.” An AFP correspondent said Douma’s streets were deserted and most of its shops closed.
“When the observers leave, the armed men will come back to cause trouble,” a soldier said, in a reference to rebels. Ladsous met Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Sunday to discuss the mission, with state-run SANA news agency saying the Syrian official had informed him that armed rebels had violated the UN-backed ceasefire hundreds of times.
Sunday’s blast followed several other close calls for the UN monitors since they deployed in Syria, where 260 observers are now on the ground according to Mood.
On May 16, a homemade bomb struck a convoy of UN observers in the flashpoint central city of Homs, damaging three vehicles but causing no casualties. A roadside bomb hit a similar convoy on May 9 as they entered the key southern city of Daraa, wounding six Syrian soldiers escorting them.
Sunday saw a bloodbath in other parts of Syria too, with at least 48 people reported killed, including 34 civilians slain in the village of Souran in the central Hama province, the Observatory said. The bloodshed came a day after a suicide car bomb attack in Syria’s main eastern city of Deir Ezzor killed at least nine people and wounded 100 others.
The bombing was claimed Monday by an Islamist group, the Al-Nusra front, which said “a suicide bomber rammed a car bomb against buildings of military security, and aviation information, causing deaths and injuries among members of the regime.” It said it was “determined to continue its operations to clean the land of the Alawites and end the injustice that strikes the Sunnis” in Syria. The violence in Syria appeared to spill over into Beirut, with overnight street battles between proand anti-Syrian groups.