UN observers set out on another field trip on Saturday amid reports that 17 people were killed in overnight shelling in the Syrian town of Deraa, where the uprising began 15 months ago.
Ten women were among the 17 who died in the southern town where the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule erupted 15 months ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. There were also reports that 44 civilians and 25 soldiers were killed across the country on Friday.
Amid the carnage and mounting death tolls, a human rights lawyer told Channel 4 News that he too was set up by Syrian rebels to be shot dead in no-man’s-land in the same manner as Senior News Correspondent Alex Thomson.
“I read your piece “Set up to be shot in no mans land”. I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour,” Nawaf al Thani, a lawyer and member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria said in a tweet to Channel 4 News on Saturday. Mr al Thani was referring to his Syrian trip in early 2012.
Mr Thomson and his team narrowly escaped sniper fire in al Qusayr after the Free Syrian Army instructed Channel 4’s driver to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man’s-land. The crew were then blocked from reconnecting with UN vehicles by the same beat-up black car carrying FSA rebels, forcing the Channel 4 team to “floor it” to escape.
“It has to make you wonder who else has had this experience when attempting to find out what is going on in rebel-held Syria,” Mr Thomson said.
Near Damascus, a bus hit by a car bomb exploded in Qudsiya suburb on Friday (see photo, left), Syria’s national news agency reported. The Observatory said the blast targeted a bus transporting members of Syrian security forces, killing at least two, and was followed by gunfire.
Explosions were heard overnight in Damascus after some of the fiercest fighting between rebels and security forces loyal to Assad. The main road south from Damascus to Deraa was blocked by burning tyres, the group said.
The UN observers finally reached al-Qubair village on Friday, where opposition activists said nearly 80 men, women and children were killed in the farming hamlet. UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said there was evidence that a “horrific crime” had taken place.
The observers had come under small arms fire on Thursday, a day after the slayings were first reported, and they were the first independent group to arrive in the village of about 160 people in central Hama province.
Opposition activists and Syrian government officials blamed each other for the killings. Activists said that up to 78 people, including women and children, were shot, hacked and burned to death, saying pro-government militiamen known as “shabiha” were responsible.
A government statement on the state-run news agency SANA said “an armed terrorist group” killed nine women and children before Hama authorities were called and killed the attackers.
The US condemned President Assad over the killings, saying he has “doubled down on his brutality and duplicity”.
Russia, eager to stop the west pushing governments from power, has used its UN Security Council veto to protect Syria from coordinated condemnation and sanctions.
“Our logic is that it is not necessary now to apply additional pressure, to introduce sanctions or use the threat of force,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
“Introducing restrictive or forceful measures clearly will not foster (peace) and will only aggravate the already difficult atmosphere,” Gatilov was quoted as saying.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was to hold a news conference later on Saturday about a new initiative which has already run into a snag in the form of US opposition to include Iran.