18 dead as UN slams Syria rights violations

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Five civilians were among 18 people killed in Syria on Saturday, a day after the UN Human Rights Council urged tougher action against Damascus, condemning its “gross violations” of human rights. An officer was among seven pro-regime soldiers and security service agents killed, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Five rebel troops also died.
The unprecedented movement against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been spearheaded by peaceful demonstrators, but in recent months army deserters have organised themselves into a rebel Free Syrian Army which has inflicted growing losses on regular forces. At a meeting late last month in Turkey, the Free Syrian Army met the civilian opposition Syrian National Council, agreeing to coordinate their efforts to overthrow Assad’s regime.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said more than 4,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since March and tens of thousands arrested. At least 12,400 people are reported to have fled the country. In Geneva on Friday, an emergency meeting of the Human Rights Council passed a resolution “strongly condemning the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities.”
Rights council members also agreed in a vote to appoint a special investigator and refer a report on the abuses in Syria to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatens to “fan the flames” of sectarian conflict not only in Syria but in the wider region, US Vice President Joe Biden said in talks with the Turkish president.
“Assad and his regime are the source of instability in Syria now and pose the greatest danger to fanning flames of sectarian conflict not only in Syria but beyond,” Biden told Abdullah Gul, a senior official told reporters. Assad is from Syria’s Alawi minority, while the anti-regime protesters are overwhelmingly from the Sunni majority.
Alawis loom large in the pro-regime militias who have taken a leading role in the regime’s brutal crackdown that has claimed more than 4,000 lives according to UN figures, sparking mounting sectarian violence in protest centres such as third-largest city Homs. In the region, Assad’s main ally is Shiite Iran. Biden said the “number one objective” was to get the Syrian regime to stop killing civilians and for Assad to quit power, the official said.