Damascus clings to straw of terrorism as it wishes for UN support
DAMASCUS - Syria Thursday demanded that the UN slap sanctions on a jihadist rebel group after it pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, as the opposition accused regime forces of "savage" killings in the country's south.
The demand by Damascus that the UN class Al-Nusra Front as an Al-Qaeda-linked group came as G8 foreign ministers meeting in London said they were "appalled" at the spiralling violence but made no mention of supplying arms to the rebels.
In a letter to the United Nations, Syria's foreign ministry said it "expects the Security Council to fulfil its role and preserve global security," and class the Al-Nusra Front as an Al-Qaeda-linked group, state news agency SANA reported.
A sanctions regime was introduced by the UN to punish individuals and entities linked to Al-Qaeda, freezing their financial assets, banning them from travelling and imposing an embargo on arms destined for Al-Qaeda.
There are currently 64 entities and 227 individuals on the list.
The regime's letter to the UN follows a pledge by Al-Nusra Front on Wednesday of allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and support for his call for an Islamic state to be set up in Syria, increasing concerns by Western nations about weapons falling into the wrong hands.
On the battlefield, details emerged Thursday of fierce fighting for two towns in the southern Syrian province of Daraa in which monitors said dozens of people were killed, among them six children.
"At least six children, seven women, 16 rebel fighters, 16 other unidentified men and 12 army troops were killed on Wednesday, in fighting, shelling and summary executions waged after the army launched an assault on Al-Sanamein and Ghabagheb," the Observatory said.
The main opposition National Coalition in a statement denounced the killings in Daraa as "brutal and savage", adding that they were driven "by nothing but a lust for murder and a thirst for blood".
"The (regime's) criminals shelled the town and then assaulted it, then allowed its criminals to carry out all kinds of despicable atrocities," said the National Coalition, which is recognised by dozens of states and organisations as legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The group accused the army of "taking civilians hostage as human shields, vandalism, looting and theft, slaughter, burning (victims) to death, and murder with firearms".
The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists, also condemned the assault.
It said the army shelled Al-Sanamein for seven hours before storming the town.
With the death toll rising and no end in sight to the violence, the G8 foreign ministers urged greater "humanitarian" assistance for those caught up in a conflict that is now in its third year.
In a statement issued by the ministers after wrapping up two days of talks, they "expressed deep concerns about the increasing human tragedy of the conflict in Syria".
"They were appalled that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict and that there are now more than a million Syrian refugees registered by the UNHCR in neighbouring countries, and more than two million internally displaced persons in Syria," they said.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, accused the regime of "wilfully" killing thousands of civilians in air strikes that it said amount to war crimes.
Bakeries and hospitals were among the civilian targets that had been hit by air strikes as the regime resorts to an increasingly indiscriminate use of its air power, HRW said.
"Air strikes have killed more than 4,300 civilians across Syria since July 2012," it said.