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U.N. rights chief says Syria must not become new Bosnia; Assad troops shell key town

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The top United Nations human rights official said the situation in Syria was reminiscent of Bosnia’s sectarian war and called on world powers on Thursday to unite in trying to halt the bloodshed, as Syrian fighter jets blasted the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province.

As many as 223 people have been by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, Al Arabiya reported, citing activists at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The memories of what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be sufficiently fresh to warn us all of the danger of allowing Syria to descend into an all-out sectarian conflict,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

“It should not take something as drastic as Srebrenica to shake the world into taking serious action to stop this type of conflict,” she told reporters, according to Reuters.

The July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica was the worst on European soil since World War Two. Dutch U.N. peacekeepers abandoned what had been designated a U.N. safe haven to advancing Bosnian Serb forces who then killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys and bulldozed their corpses into pits.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, said both sides in the Syrian conflict may have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.

“The indiscriminate use of heavy weaponry by government forces to destroy large swathes of cities such as Homs and Aleppo is inexcusable, as is the use of huge bombs by extremist opposition groups which kill and maim civilians as well as military targets,” she added.

Meanwhile, at least 44 people were killed in air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan on Thursday, rescue workers told an AFP journalist at the scene.

“We have recovered 44 corpses from under the rubble,” one rescue worker said.

He said the air force’s bombs had destroyed two residential buildings and a mosque, where many women and children were taking refuge.

In a makeshift field hospital, the AFP journalist saw 12 corpses wrapped in white sheets, and plastic bags marked “body parts.”

“At the moment it seems only three people survived the attack, including a two-year-old child,” said medic Jaffar Sharhoub. “He survived in the arms of his dead father.”

A resident who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said several of the dead had just returned from Kafr Nabal, a town west of Maaret al-Numan. “They thought the danger had passed.”

Several fighter jets flew over Maaret al-Numan and the surrounding area throughout Thursday morning.

They made short dives to drop at least 10 bombs on the town and its eastern outskirts, near the Wadi Deif army base which is under rebel siege.

Strategically located on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, Maaret al-Numan was seized by rebels early last week.

A suicide bomber on a motorbike, meanwhile, struck near the interior ministry in the Syrian capital on Thursday without causing any casualties, a security source told AFP.

He detonated his explosives in the southwestern neighborhood of Kfar Sousa, some 300 meters (yards) from the ministry. The district is home to several branches of the security services, the source added.

Not far from Maaret al-Numan, rebel fighters on Thursday launched an intense mortar bombardment of the army base at Wadi Deif which they have been besieging for the past week.

Some 250 regime troops are holed up in the base, along with large amounts of ammunition, rebels told AFP.

Wadi Deif is located on an important pipeline that supplies fuel to the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest and theatre of combat since July 20.

The Observatory said that on Thursday fighter jets bombed Maarhtat and Bsida, where the helicopter was downed the day before.

In Aleppo, the military pounded rebel-held neighborhoods of Shaar and Sukkari, as well as two nearby villages, the Observatory said.

The ruling party’s mouthpiece al-Baath newspaper said on Thursday the army focused its operations “on the districts of Sakhur and Shaar...and destroyed several canons and vehicles mounted with machineguns.”

In the central province of Homs, the military bombed the town of Qusayr, another opposition stronghold which government troops have besieged for several days, said the Observatory.

Also in Homs, bombing killed three children, including one whose head was blown off, in the central town of Houla, near to a village where at least 108 people died a massacre in May, most of them women and children.

In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, “a group of armed terrorists carried out a bomb attack at dawn...against a gas pipeline linking Deir Ezzor to Palmyra, and an oil pipeline linking the Omar to Teim fields...causing a fire to break out,” said state news agency SANA.

A Ministry of Petroleum source cited by SANA said the pumping of fuel was interrupted temporarily, and the fire was put out.