Grand Mufti Hassoun, whose 22-year-old son was recently assassinated in Syria, is a supporter of Bashar al-Assad.
|European nations have called on the UN to condemn Syria’s crackdown on anti-government protests [Reuters]|
Activists say at least nine people have been killed in clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors in the country’s northwest.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the three soldiers and one civilian were killed on Tuesday in fighting in the region of Jabal al-Zawiya.
Activists also reported clashes elsewhere, including the southern village of Dael, where the Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network, said military defectors attacked an army checkpoint, wounding one officer.
Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso said government troops also were conducting military operations in the central town of Talbiseh.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International issued a report detailing at least 30 cases of Syrian expats being targeted and threatened for their activities by Syrian security.
The London-based watchdog urged host countries to “take stronger action against Syrian embassies accused of orchestrating this kind of harassment and intimidation”, and to protect the rights of Syrians abroad.
The Anatolia news agency said Syrian army colonel Riad al-As’ad, who has taken refuge in Turkey after defecting in protest at the crackdown, called on Tuesday for a united front against the Damascus regime.
“Opponent forces in Syria should get united and close ranks until the regime collapses,” it quoted him as saying.
Europe in diplomatic bind
Amid the continuing protests, European nations were to seek a vote on Tuesday on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown on demonstrations, a day after Washington stepped up sanctions against Damascus.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal dropped the word “sanctions” from their draft text in a bid to avoid a Russian veto – but Russia called the text “unacceptable”, despite the changes.
“The text that Western nations are planning to put up for a vote is clearly unacceptable,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
“It is unacceptable because it keeps the prospect of imposing sanctions on Syria,” Gatilov said.
|Read our complete coverage of Syria’s uprising|
Western governments and human rights watchdogs have expressed mounting criticism of the council’s failure to adopt any resolution on Syria since protests erupted in March drawing an iron-fisted response from the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 2,700 people have died in the crackdown, according to the UN’s own figures.
Russia has said it will use its right as a permanent member of the council to veto any resolution that threatens sanctions against its longtime ally.
It has not said whether it will block the latest draft, which talks of “targeted measures” rather than overt sanctions.
“We just do not know what the Russians’ plan is on this, but the time has come now to send a signal to President Assad,” one European diplomat told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
“We are ready to go ahead with a vote even if the Russians decide to veto. But the negotiations are now between capitals,” another UN diplomat said.
Russia has proposed its own rival draft resolution with no threat of action. But this has not yet been formally proposed for a vote.
The current European draft “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human right violations by the Syrian authorities” and demands an immediate end to “all violence”.
US sanctions in effect
While the European resolution would call for “targeted measures” if the Syrian government fails to comply within 30 days, in Washington, the US treasury department moved on Monday to block the sale of telecommunications equipment to Syria, the latest in a series of unilateral sanctions it has imposed against Assad’s government.
According to a US treasury document, US firms will now be barred from selling telecoms equipment or technology to the Syrian government, but not to all private Syrian firms.
On August 17, President Barack Obama signed an executive order authorising sanctions against the Syrian state because of what the White House termed a “continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria”.
The US senate meanwhile unanimously confirmed the US ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, who has won widespread praise for his outspoken highlighting of the crackdown, which has seen him physically attacked by Assad’s supporters.