Syrian death toll over 17,000 Annan seeks Iran, Iraq help in ending crisis

BEIRUT, July 10, (Agencies): At least 17,129 people have been killed in Syria’s 16-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pro-opposition Observatory said at least 11,897 of them were “civilians” – but added it could not determine how many of those might have been fighters who had joined an insurgency led by army defectors.
Around 884 defectors have been killed in the crackdown on the protest movement that began in spring 2011 and has since turned into an armed rebellion, the Observatory said.

The total death toll included members of the security forces still loyal to Assad, of whom 4,348 have died, it said.

Syrian authorities have said in the past that more than 2,600 members of the security forces have been killed, but have not given a death toll for several months.

United Nations officials said in April more than 10,000 people had been killed in the violence but have offered no estimates since.

The Observatory is based in Britain and has a network of activists across the country. Independent journalists and aid groups are severely restricted by Syrian authorities and figures are impossible to verify.
Bloodshed has intensified in Syria in recent weeks, with around 100 people being killed daily.

Kofi Annan warned on Tuesday that Syria’s deadly conflict could spread across the region as he held talks in Iran and Iraq aimed at shoring up support for his tattered peace plan.

A day after meeting President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, the UN-Arab League peace envoy had talks in Tehran and Baghdad amid new bloodshed in Syria where more than 17,000 people have reportedly been killed since March 2011.

In Tehran, he stressed that the Islamic republic, Syria’s staunchest regional ally, has a key role to play, and also sought help from Iraq, another neighbour of Syria.

“Iran can play a positive role,” Annan said after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
“There is a risk that the situation in Syria gets out of hand and spreads to the region,” Annan told a news conference with Salehi, who hailed the envoy’s “neutrality” and reiterated Iranian support for his mission.
Annan then flew to Baghdad where, he said, he had “very good discussions” with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and later told reporters he would brief the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

“And I’m sure the council will take appropriate action, including the future of UNSMIS, the monitors on the ground, as their mandate comes up on the 21st of July,” Annan said of unarmed UN military observers deployed in Syria.

The 300-strong UN Supervision Mission in Syria was suspended in mid-June because of the intense violence.

The former UN chief’s Middle East trip follows a meeting of world powers in Geneva late last month — to which Iran was not invited — to salvage his peace initiative.

A plan was agreed in Geneva for a political transition in Syria, which did not make an explicit call for Assad to quit, although the West and the opposition made clear they saw no role for him in a unity government.
After meeting Assad on Monday, the former UN chief said he had agreed with him on a new political “approach” to ending the crisis in Syria that he would put to the rebels.

“We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so. We agreed an approach which I will share with the armed opposition,” he said.

Deadly violence showed no sign no abating on Tuesday.
The army rained shells down on the rebel-held central town of Rastan as violence killed at least 21 people nationwide, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“We have many wounded, and there are no doctors here, only two dentists. We can’t do anything for the wounded. It’s tragic,” an activist in Rastan told AFP via Skype.
Of those killed on Tuesday, at least nine were civilians, four soldiers and four rebels, the Observatory said, noting that 98 people were killed on Monday, including 34 soldiers.
Among the dead was Syrian Arab Red Crescent staffer Khaled Khaffaji, shot by unknown gunmen overnight in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

Dr Abdul Rahman al-Attar, president of the organisation, said people were “devastated” by the death.
“All sides must respect health-care workers and the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems, and allow Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers to provide assistance unhindered and in safety,” a statement said.
Russia said on Tuesday that it wanted to host a new meeting of foreign powers on the Syria crisis but stressed that the talks should not decide Assad’s fate.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov also said the attempt in Geneva to save Annan’s peace plan needed to be continued with the involvement of countries such as Iran, which both Washington and European powers strongly oppose.
But the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said its priority was to “work for the fall of the Assad regime and all its symbols,” insisting there could be no political transition until the embattled president’s departure.
The opposition coalition’s new leader, Abdel Basset Sayda, is due in Moscow on Wednesday at the foreign ministry’s invitation, the SNC said.
Annan admitted in remarks published by French newspaper Le Monde ahead of his Damascus trip that his peace blueprint has so far foundered.
He has previously expressed frustration that while Moscow and Iran are mentioned by some as stumbling blocks to peace, “little is said about other countries which send arms, money and have a presence on the ground.”
Russia is sending a flotilla of six warships to its naval base at Syria’s port of Tartus, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, citing a military source.
The source said the flotilla’s deployment would last until the end of September and “was not linked to the escalation of the situation in Syria.”
The United States is aware of a Russian naval flotilla headed for a Syrian port but does not yet see cause for concern, the White House said Tuesday.
“We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary but we refer you to the Russian government for more details,” Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told AFP.
Moscow arms export officials said on Monday that Russia will not supply new weapons to Syria while fighting there continues, while stressing that old contracts would be fulfilled.
That drew criticism from Amnesty International, whose deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa said “they must immediately stop all arms transfers, including technical assistance, to the Syrian government.”
“Whilst Russia continues to block international efforts to find an effective solution to the situation, the people of Syria continue to suffer a bloody cycle of repression and abuse. Many of the weapons previously supplied by Russia and other countries are being used in this assault,” Ann Harrison added.
Lebanon, meanwhile, began reinforcing its border with Syria following a series of deadly attacks, a military spokesman said in Beirut.
Syrian troops traded gunfire with men overnight in the border area and shells fell inside Lebanon, wounding civilians, the army said, just two days after border clashes killed two girls.
Syrian state news agency SANA confirmed the violence and said troops foiled attempts by “armed terrorist groups” to infiltrate from Lebanon during the night.
A Bahrain court has dissolved a Shi’ite Islamist political party which has played a role in the Gulf Arab state’s wave of unrest, on the grounds that it answers to a religious authority who calls for violence.
Bahrain, a US ally ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa family, has been in turmoil since protests, led mainly by majority Shi’ites, broke out in February last year.
The Islamic Action party, Amal, follows a “hostile clerical authority who blatantly calls for violence and instigates hatred”, the Information Affairs Authority said in a statement on Tuesday. The court order came on Monday, it said.
The statement appeared to refer to the Iraq and Britain-based cleric Sayed Hadi al-Modarresi, an Iraqi who lived in Bahrain until he was accusing of plotting a coup in the island state after the 1979 Iranian revolution.
He directed video messages from abroad to Shi’ite protesters in Bahrain during last year’s uprising.
The statement said Amal had also broken regulations by failing to submit a copy of its annual budget to the ministry of justice, by not holding a public convention in four years, and by holding its last convention in a house of worship.
It also said the group had failed to give a “clear and definitive rejection and condemnation of acts of setting fires, sabotage, terrorising citizens, endangering their lives, jeopardising their freedoms and putting them and their property in direct danger”.
Authorities threatened to close Amal and the leading opposition group Wefaq last year during a crackdown on protests that erupted in the wake of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Intervention by US officials appeared to thwart the plan.
A spokesman for Amal was not available for comment but Wefaq said the court’s action was part of a campaign to intimidate opposition parties.
“It is another indicator of the slow crackdown that’s going on. Bahrain is swimming against the current; I’m sure this policy will fail,” said Matar Matar, a former Wefaq member of parliament.
Amal has often set itself apart from a coalition of opposition parties led by Wefaq. It has complained of being targeted because it rejected out of hand the idea of a national dialogue with the government aimed at ending political crisis.
Clashes between protesters and police continue daily. Authorities have tried to stop organised protests by opposition parties over the past month by refusing to license them and using tear gas on those who turn up.
The government says youth protesters attack police without provocation and hold unlicensed protests in villages.
The opposition coalition want full powers for the elected parliament and a cabinet fully answerable to parliament. The government, dominated by the Al Khalifa family, has increased parliament’s powers of scrutiny over ministers.

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