The opposition Syrian National Council urged the U.N. Security Council and Arab League on Wednesday to hold emergency meetings after regime forces “massacred” more than 200 people in two days.
Washington warned of new international measures against Syria, and said if Damascus did not fully implement an Arab League plan to contain the violence, “the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown.”
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accused the opposition of pushing for foreign intervention and trying to sabotage an Arab-brokered deal for observers, but ignoring calls for talks.
Reacting to reports of hundreds of civilians killed this week, the Syrian National Council (SNC) called for an “emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawiyah mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular.”
It also appealed 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 SNC, a major umbrella group of factions opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, reported “250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period.”
It urged the Security Council to declare the cities and towns under attack “‘safe zones’ that enjoy international protection; and force the regime’s forces to withdraw from said areas.”
It also said Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid.
France denounced what it said was the “unprecedented massacre” and urged Russia to accelerate talks for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the crisis.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said: “Everything must be put in motion to end this murderous spiral into which Bashar al-Assad is dragging his people, deeper each day.”
Russia has proposed a Security Council resolution that would denounce violence from both sides.
France has called this “unacceptable”, seeking instead a resolution that would directly pin the blame for the violence on the regime and threaten strong international sanctions on Damascus.
The SNC’s strongly worded statement came after a rights group said Assad forces carried out a “massacre” by killing 111 civilians in the northwestern town of Kafruwed on Tuesday.
The revised toll brings to 123 the number of civilian deaths across Syria for Tuesday, the majority in Idlib province and 12 in the central city of Homs.
In addition, at least 100 army deserters were killed or wounded in Idlib on Tuesday, the Observatory said, adding 14 that security force members were killed in southern Daraa province, cradle of the nine-month uprising against Assad.
More than 100 deserters and civilians were also reported to have been killed on Monday.
Team heading to Damascus
The latest wave of violence comes as an advance Arab League team prepares to head to Damascus on Thursday to pave the way for some 500 observers.
“Since Syria signed the protocol, it has been fully committed to facilitating the mission of the Arab League which will come to see the reality of the crisis,” foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told AFP.
“Unfortunately, the Syrian opposition is trying to sabotage the protocol and is seeking to push for foreign intervention rather than accept the call to dialogue,” he added.
The observer mission is part of an Arab peace plan endorsed by Syria on November 2, which also calls for withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence and the release of detainees.
Syria has failed to convince either the opposition or Western governments pushing for tough U.N. action that it is willing to follow up its words with deeds.
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “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.”
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.
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said he expected the observers to vindicate Damascus’ claims.
Russia pressed to speed up talks
Western nations on Wednesday pressed Russia to speed up talks on a proposed UN Security Council resolution on the Syria crisis amid suspicions that it is deliberately holding up the process.
Russia, a key ally of Syria, and China vetoed a European resolution on Syria in October but Russia surprised the council last week by proposing its own resolution which would condemn violence by the government and opposition.
European and U.S. diplomats have said the resolution is “unbalanced” and only one session of expert talks has been held in six days since it was presented. Some western missions have raised suspicions that Russia could be working with Syria.
“The situation is dramatic and the council has no time to lose,” said Germany’s U.N. ambassador Peter Wittig. “We urge the Russian delegation to expedite the negotiations of their draft and to conduct serious and swift negotiations.”
In Paris, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero also called on Russia “to accelerate the rhythm of negotiations at the Security Council on its draft resolution.”
Germany raised Syria during Security Council consultations on Wednesday and a German diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “In light of the dramatic escalation on the ground there shouldn’t be any Russian-Syrian foot-dragging.”
The diplomat added that calling only one meeting and Russia’s failure to come up with an updated draft incorporating proposed amendments “gives raise to doubts about how serious the Russian efforts really are,” the diplomat added.
Another Western diplomat, also speaking on condition, of anonymity, also said there was “evidence” that Russia was working with Syria on its resolution campaign.
In response to the pressure, Russia called a new meeting of experts from the 15-nation council on Thursday.
U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon meanwhile called on Syria to give “full cooperation” to a proposed Arab League observer mission to monitor the impact of the government’s deadly crackdown on protests.
“The secretary general remains extremely concerned about the escalating crisis and the mounting death toll in Syria. As we have said repeatedly, the violence and killings must stop,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
Nesirky said the U.N. was encouraged by Syria’s signature of an accord to let Arab League observers into the country to monitor claims against Assad’s forces.
Meanwhile, five Iranian technicians working on a power plant project in Syria were abducted on Wednesday by an unidentified group of people, the Iranian embassy in Damascus said in a statement, according to the Mehr news agency.
The embassy “has called on the kidnappers to immediately release” the technicians, Mehr said.
The five were taken early on Wednesday as they were on their way to work on the project in Homs, a western city that is a major flashpoint for the unrest that has gripped Syria, according to the report.
“The five were kidnapped on Wednesday at 0630 a.m. while heading to their work place ... We demand their immediate release,” Mehr quoted a statement issued by the embassy in Damascus.
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that eight engineers “of different nationalities” disappeared after heading by bus to their work at a power plant in Homs province.
Iran, Syria’s closest regional ally, has welcomed Syria’s agreement this week to admit Arab League monitors to oversee its implementation of a plan aimed at ending unrest in Syria.
Kidnappings and killings based on religious identity are increasingly common in protest flashpoints such as Homs, sparking international and regional concerns that strife could lead to sustained sectarian bloodshed in Syria.
The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Assad’s crackdown on nine months of protests inspired by street uprisings in the Arab world that have overthrown the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Several weeks ago Damascus said 1,100 members of the security forces had been killed by “armed terrorist gangs”.