The Mideast Update (Link) - Joshua Spurlock (December 13, 2011)
The United Nations again reported a substantial increase in the number of those killed in the ongoing violence against the opposition in Syria, upping the death toll to more than 5,000. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Monday that “credible reports from a variety of sources received by my office indicate that the total number of people killed [in Syria] since the protests began in March now probably exceeds 5,000,” according to a report on the website for the Office of the High Commissioner.
The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has brutally repressed the opposition protest movement that began in March, reportedly using the Syrian military to open fire on its own citizens.
Pillay said the death total includes both civilians and soldiers who have defected from the regime or refused to shoot civilians. Ambassador Rosemary A. DiCarlo, the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, pointed out the number of those killed has risen by 3,000 in a matter of months.
“Almost four months ago the death toll was then at 2,000. It’s now around 5,000,” DiCarlo was quoted by a press release as saying. “So it’s more than doubled in the past four months.”
US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, also released a statement saying that the briefing on the Syrian situation “underscores the urgency of the present moment.”
Rice also called again upon the UN Security Council to take additional steps to end the violence. Russia and China vetoed a previous Council attempt on the matter.
“Let there be no doubt: Assad’s days in power are numbered. The question is how many more Syrians—such as 13-year-old Hamza Khatib, who was tortured and murdered in April—must be beaten, killed or raped before Assad leaves office,” said Rice.
DiCarlo further noted following the comments from Pillay that “it’s very clear from her briefing that we’ve got a human rights crisis in Syria that is also a threat to international peace and security.”
Beyond the deep human rights concerns, there are also fears that Syria may be heading towards civil war. A report on Tuesday from Iran’s Press TV likely added to those worries, claiming that a Syrian army general was killed by “armed gangs” in the in the northwestern city of Idleb, which is less than an hour’s drive from the Turkish border area.
On Tuesday, US spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that most of those opposing the regime in Syria are peaceful. In comments released by the State Department, Nuland said, “Our assessment remains that the vast majority of those Syrians who are demonstrating for peaceful change are doing so peacefully…
“So from our perspective, we have supported peaceful protest, we will continue to do so, and we think it’s a mischaracterization of the situation to say that the violence in Syria is the result of agiteurs. We know where the violence is coming from. The violence is coming from Assad’s regime, his brutality.”
Syria Denies UN Attack
Meanwhile, the Syrian government rejected claims from the French that they were behind an explosives attack that wounded five United Nations peacekeepers last week. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that Foreign Ministry Spokesman Dr. Jihad Makdessi denied any Syrian involvement in the incident.
He also slammed French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who told Le Monde that Syria was “probably” behind the attack, although he had no evidence.
“It seems that the French Foreign Minister is now adopting conspiracy theories, which he accuses others of doing,” SANA quoted Makdessi as saying. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in his Twitter feed, also pointed the finger at the Assad regime for last Friday’s bombing.
The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which has close links to the Syrian regime, issued their own condemnation of the attack on the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), according to a report from Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar’s news website. †