Protesters across Syria come under fire

Security Council fails to reach agreement on how to respond to crisis that Russia warned was veering towards civil war.

    Syrian forces have again fired at demonstrators across the country after nightly Ramadan prayers in intensifying assaults to crush dissent against President Bashar al-Assad during the Muslim fasting month, witnesses and activists said.

    Telephone lines in the central city of Hama were down on Wednesday morning, as residents living nearby reported a renewal of tank shelling in several neighbourhoods of the restive city.

    Tens of people were reportedly wounded when they came under fire on Tuesday in the western Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya, the northeastern city of Hasaka, and the port city of Latakia.

    "Ten buses full of 'amn' [security] entered Muadhamiya, I saw 10 youths falling down as I was running away from the gunfire. Hundreds of parents are in the streets looking for their sons," said one witness living in Muadhamiya.

    The shelling in Hama on Tuesday concentrated on the eastern Rubaii and al-Hamidiya neighbourhoods, the Aleppo road in the north and the eastern Baath district, two residents said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

    The rights group Avaaz said five people had been killed and 36 others injured in the city of Hama earlier on Tuesday.

    "Two people were shot by snipers and three died after tanks shelled the areas of Janoob Malaab and Qusoor", the group said in a statement.

    "Nineteen people were admitted to Hawrani Hospital, and the rest treated in private clinics and in their own homes, all suffering from shrapnel wounds following the blasts." 

    Fayed, a resident of Hama, told Al Jazeera that a woman and two children had been killed, as smoke was seen above buildings in the eastern part of the city. 

    Activists say 140 people have been killed across the country since Sunday.

    Security Council talks

    Meanwhile, the UN Security Council ended nearly eight hours of closed-door discussion late on Tuesday without reaching agreement on how to deal with Syria's repression of protesters.

    Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that council members would consult with their governments and return on Wednesday for more discussion.

    Churkin called the new text circulated by European nations as "detrimental" to efforts "to do everything possible to pull away from the brink of civil war where Syria is finding itself, unfortunately and tragically."

    India's UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, who currently presides over the 15-nation council, said earlier that two council members that he did not name were opposed to a resolution while a third member, Lebanon, was against any statement criticising Syria. The two opposing members were known to be Russia and China.

    However, Russia indicated that it would not oppose a UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence.

    Sergei Vershinin, chief of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East and North Africa Department, told Russian news agencies that Russia is "not categorically against'' adopting a new UN resolution on Syria. But he said such a resolution should not impose sanctions because that would only escalate the conflict.

    The 15-nation council is under mounting international pressure to take a stand on violence in Syria, but some diplomats say it is more likely it will now try to agree on a less formal statement, with no warning of UN action.

    Envoy recalled

    Italy has recalled its ambassador to Syria in protest against what it called the "horrible repression" of the opposition, and urged other European Union members to follow suit.

    The move was meant to "send a clear political message that violent repression against the civilian population is no longer tolerated", Maurizio Massari, a spokesman for the Italian foreign ministry, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

    "We think it's necessary to increase political and diplomatic pressure on the regime [of President Bashar al-Assad]. This pressure has not been sufficient so far," he said.

    But Rome's appeal to fellow EU nations was not immediately heeded.

    Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Poland and France have no such plans to follow suit, according to the AP news agency.

    The international community's stand on the Syria crisis does not include any plans for a Libya-style military intervention to halt the bloodshed, France said on Tuesday.

    "The situations in Libya and Syria are not similar" and "no option of a military nature is planned," Christine Fages, a French foreign ministry spokeswoman, said.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met US-based Syrian democracy activists in Washington on Tuesday as the administration weighed new sanctions against Syria.

    Clinton "expressed her admiration for the courage of the brave Syrian people who continue to defy the government's brutality in order to express their universal rights," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

    'World is watching'

    Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, warned the Syrian government that the "world is watching" its deadly crackdown against protesters and that attempts at imposing a news blackout were not working.

    Pillay also reiterated that the government must halt the violence immediately and that an international and independent probe must be launched to investigate the deadly crackdown.

    "The government has been trying to keep the world blind about the alarming situation in the country by refusing access to foreign journalists, independent human rights groups and to the fact-finding mission mandated by the Human Rights Council," Pillay said.

    "But they are not succeeding. The world is watching and the international community is gravely concerned. I stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters who are demanding that the persistent violation of their human rights ends now." 

    The European Union on Tuesday added Syrian Defence Minister Ali Habib Mahmud and four others people, including Assad's uncle Mohammed Makhluf, to a list of members of Assad's government targeted by asset freezes and travel bans.

    The latest measures bring to 38 the number of people and businesses targeted, including members of Assad's family and three commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard accused of aiding the crackdown.

    Activists say about 1,700 civilians have been killed since anti-government protests began in mid-March. Authorities dispute the toll and blame a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists are behind it.


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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