UN prepares Syria mission, Europe calls for sanctions
A humanitarian mission is readying to visit Syria at the weekend, the United Nations said, as European powers press the UN Security Council for tough sanctions against the regime for its brutal crackdown.
As a UN official announced the long-delayed mission, President Bashar al-Assad's envoy accused the West of waging a "humanitarian and diplomatic war" against the government in Damascus, which has been blamed for at least 2,000 deaths since protests started in mid-March.
The Security Council however was told in a briefing on Syria of a shoot-to-kill policy against protesters, stadium executions and children feared killed in Syrian government custody.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal said they are preparing a Security Council resolution that would order sanctions against the Assad government. The United States said it strongly backed the move.
On Friday Spain became the latest nation to openly back the sanctions on Assad's regime.
"Spain joins these calls," Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiminez told Spanish radio Cadena Ser.
US President Barack Obama and European Union leaders earlier called for Assad to stand down in a move to step up international pressure on the Syrian president over his deadly crackdown on protests.
Britain's deputy UN ambassador Philip Parham announced the sanctions move and told reporters "we cannot let ourselves be strung along by talk of better times ahead."
The measures proposed could include an assets freeze and travel ban against Syrian individuals as well as an arms embargo, Parham said. It was not known when the resolution would be submitted.
France's UN envoy Martin Briens said that top UN officials -- including High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and humanitarian chief Valerie Amos -- had given "frightening" descriptions of events in Syria to a Security Council meeting on the crisis.
Pillay told reporters she had presented "reliable corroborative evidence" of a shoot-to-kill policy by the Assad government and of summary killings and disappearances.
She told the council of one alleged incident in a stadium in the protest city of Daraa, where 26 blindfolded men were shot dead execution-style on May 1.
A boy of 13 was among the many missing feared killed in government jails, she added.
Hospitals have now become targets of the military assault and some doctors were refusing to treat the injured because they feared persecution, Pillay added.
Pillay said the Security Council should refer the violence to the International Criminal Court for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity.
She told reporters however that judging by the reaction in the council, there was "little hope" of this happening.
The civilian death toll from the protests has now passed 2,000, UN under secretary general B. Lynn Pascoe told the meeting.
Amos announced however that a much-delayed humanitarian assessment mission to Syria would start this weekend.
Assad promised UN chief Ban Ki-moon in May that a UN humanitarian team could go to protest towns but then blocked it.
But Amos told reporters: "We have been guaranteed that we will have full access to where we want to go."
The team "will want to concentrate on those places where there have been reports of fighting," Amos added.
Any proposed resolution is likely to face strong opposition from Russia and China, which as permanent members of the council can veto any measure. Brazil, India and South Africa have also opposed tough measures against Syria.
India expressed concern at the Security Council meeting because the Syrian opposition had refused to come to talks with the government, diplomats said.
Assad told Ban on Wednesday that the military offensive had "stopped" and Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari insisted this was true.
Reports from the Syrian city of Homs, however, said security forces opened fire to disperse an anti-regime protest, killing at least one person and wounding another, according to an activist. Other military operations were also reported.
Jaafari said the United States and its allies had launched a "humanitarian and diplomatic war" against his country. He said the West was "settling old scores" dating from Syria's resistance to Western takeover in the early 20th century.
© 2011 AFP