Blood washes away Syria promises: Opposition urges UN action over 'massacres'

123 civilian deaths in one day

DAMASCUS - The opposition Syrian National Council on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency meetings after "massacres" carried out by regime forces.
Reacting to reports this week of the killing of hundreds of civilians, the opposition bloc called for an "emergency UN Security Council session to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawiyah Mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular."
It also called for an "emergency meeting for the Arab League to condemn the bloody massacres... and cooperate with the United Nations in taking the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians."
The strongly-worded statement came after a rights group reported that forces loyal to embattled President Bashar al-Assad carried out a "massacre" by killing 111 civilians in the northwestern town of Kafruwed on Tuesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had warned earlier that "dozens of civilians" were surrounded by the army in the town in the region of Jabal al-Zawiyah, more than 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Damascus.
The revised toll brings to 123 the number of civilian deaths across Syria for that day, the majority of them in Idlib province and 12 in the flashpoint central city of Homs.
At least 100 army deserters were killed or wounded in Idlib on Tuesday, the Observatory said, adding 14 security force members were killed in southern Daraa province, cradle of the nine-month uprising against Assad's rule.
Meanwhile, state news agency SANA reported clashes with "an armed terrorist group" in Qusayr in Homs province, and said several were killed or wounded, while the military suffered no casualties.
More than 100 deserters and civilians were reported to have been killed on Monday.
The latest wave of violence in Syria marks some of the bloodiest days since a military assault on the central city of Hama killed 139 people in late July.
It comes ahead of the scheduled arrival of an advance Arab League team which is due in Damascus on Thursday to pave the way for some 500 observers.
The observer mission is part of an Arab peace plan endorsed by Syria on November 2, which also calls for a halt to violence, releasing detainees and the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts.
Syria, which signed the accord on Monday after weeks of stalling, has failed to convince either the opposition or Western governments pushing for tough UN action that it is willing to follow up its words with deeds.
Gulf Cooperation Council rulers on Tuesday urged Syria to immediately halt its "killing machine" and "lift all signs of armed conflict."
Washington also expressed doubt that Syria was genuine in its promise.
"A signature on a piece of paper from a regime like this, that has broken promise after promise after promise, means relatively little to us," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the Arab League needs to show its observers are "independent and able to work effectively" to dispel "well-founded fears of yet another Syrian stalling tactic."
Syria blames the unrest on "armed terrorist groups" -- not peaceful protesters as maintained by Western powers and rights groups.
Its foreign minister, Walid Muallem, said he expected the observer mission to vindicate that position.
On Monday, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Syria, where the UN estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March.
SANA said the Syrian navy and air force conducted live-fire manoeuvres on Tuesday to test their preparedness to repulse "any aggression against the homeland.
"The air force and air defences conducted manoeuvres with live ammunition... with a view to testing the combat capabilities of the air forces and to test their readiness to respond to any aggression" against the country, it said.
The agency added that naval forces had carried out similar exercises.
At the beginning of December, the military also carried out exercises that one analyst said was a show of force designed to intimidate.
Another said the war games aimed to deter "any (Western) impulse to intervene militarily in Syria by showing that it is prepared to declare a regional war."