Four killed in Syria, as West ups pressure for UN action
Syrian security forces killed four people on Wednesday, as the West ratcheted up pressure for UN Security Council action against Damascus, with France branding blocking moves by China and Russia as "indecent".
The four were killed in Jebel al-Zawiya region, where the army deployed two weeks ago to crush an anti-government revolt, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP by phone.
He said sustained gunfire was heard in the area, which lies in Idlib, a province near the northwestern border with Turkey.
An explosion, meanwhile, hit a pipeline in northeastern Syria in the first attack on the energy infrastructure since unprecedented protests against Assad's rule erupted in mid-March, state media and activists said.
And the Arab League of Human Rights head said security forces wielding batons dispersed 250 intellectuals and writers in Damascus's Midan district on Wednesday as they gathered, sang the national anthem and chanted "God, Syria, Freedom."
Four people were arrested, said Abdel Karim Rihawi.
France, which with other European governments has been circulating a draft resolution at the Security Council for months only to see it blocked by veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia, said it was vital the UN take action over President Bashar al-Assad's deadly crackdown on dissent.
"It is indecent because Bashar al-Assad has mobilised incredible resources to neutralise his opposition," said Defence Minister Gerard Longuet.
"Countries ... like China ... and Russia must accept common rules -- one does not deal with one's opposition with cannon fire," he told the LCI news channel.
Human rights groups say Syrian security forces have killed at least 1,300 civilians and arrested more than 12,000 in a crackdown in which security service agents backed by troops have gone house-to-house to crush any display of dissent.
US President Barack Obama told CBS television that Assad had "missed opportunity after opportunity to present a genuine reform agenda.
"More broadly, I think that increasingly you're seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people," Obama said.
Washington had made it clear "that what we've seen on the part of the Syrian regime has been an unacceptable degree of brutality directed at its people," the US president said.
Russia said it remained firmly opposed to foreign interference in Syria and believed its regional ally could reach a political compromise to help end its crisis.
The foreign ministry called on Assad's regime to release political prisoners not covered by previous amnesties.
"We are convinced of the Syrians' ability to reach a political consensus without violence and foreign interference," it said, welcoming last week's launch of a "national dialogue" in Damascus supported by the authorities.
The comments came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov prepared Wednesday to meet Obama in Washington.
And in a show of support on the regional front, Assad held talks in Damascus on Wednesday with the new Arab League chief, Nabil al-Arabi, on "developments in Syria," state television said.
Arabi told reporters the League "rejects any interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries and nobody can withdraw the legitimacy of a leader because it is up to the people to decide."
He also underlined that Syria's stability was essential for other Arab countries.
In Syria's main oil- and gas-producing region in Deir Ezzor province in the northeast, an explosion hit a gas pipeline near the town of Mayadin late on Tuesday, the director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP in Nicosia.
State-owned Al-Ikhbariya television said it was an oil pipeline that was hit and that the blast had caused no casualties and only "limited damage".
An oil ministry official, quoted by state news agency SANA, said oil production was not stopped.
Meanwhile, Britain's Foreign Office said it summoned the Syrian ambassador over the attacks on the French and US embassies in Damascus earlier this week.
Sami Khiyami was called in over the raids on Monday by angry mobs apparently sparked by the American and French envoys visiting the city of Hama, a flashpoint for protests against Assad's regime.
Patrick Davies, the head of Near East and North African Department at the Foreign Office, "reiterated the UK's condemnation of these attacks," the statement said.
© 2011 AFP