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12 Jun, 2012 10:48

Damascus puts squeeze on militants amid accusations of extreme cruelty

The Syrian army has besieged the city of Al-Heffa, one of the remaining militant strongholds on the Syrian-Turkish border. The UN Secretary-General has demanded observers be let into the area while the US warns of another looming massacre.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon personally voiced his concern, as UN observers reported intensified rebel activity. The observers confirm the government is using artillery and helicopters. They report of civilians trapped in war zones and they say there has been information about Syrian rebels capturing some Syrian officers.

UN wants to prevent Al-Heffa storm

The UN head demands observers from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) be allowed into Al-Heffa. The demand means getting access to the city which is still largely a war zone, surrounded by government tanks and helicopters dealing with targets on the city’s outskirts. The UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan joined the demand to let observers into the conflict zone in Al-Heffa. His statement has been backed by Washington. The US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has voiced concerns that Bashar Assad’s regime “may be organizing another massacre,” calling the regime’s anti-militant efforts “increasingly desperate.”Moscow is ready to host an international peace conference on the Syrian conflict, but Iran’s participation is a must, announced Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday.The opposition reports that most of the population of Al-Heffa, a town of 30,000 near the border with Turkey, has fled their homes.Rebel fighters said they had sent civilians to the outskirts of the city, but now those regions of the city were under attack."Every few days we manage to open a route to get the wounded out, so some families were able to escape yesterday," one rebel calling himself Abdulwudud told Reuters.Government forces further ratcheted attacks on the central city of Homs and its environs, resulting in the death of five civilians, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.One activist within the city told AFP via Skype that 400 civilians— including women and children—were trapped in a local school.Earlier in the day, the Observatory said 10 civilians were killed when government troops shelled a neighborhood in the eastern city of Deir az-Zour.The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims violence cost at least 106 lives on Monday nationwide, including 77 civilians and 23 Syrian troops.The Observatory reports regularly reports on civilian deaths in the country.  However, having no representatives on the ground, they rely on reports made by informers from the Syrian opposition by phone.The West has assigned guilt for the massacres in Al-Kubeir (55 dead) and Houla (108 dead) to Syrian government armed forces. The opposition has blamed the executions on Shabbiya, a paramilitary pro-regime group. They claim Syrian government forces have used heavy weapons in Houla, whereas most of the people killed in Houla were either shot dead or slain in their own intact homes.

'They kill children'

The UN mission in Syria claims Syrian troops are torturing and executing children as young as eight, using them as human shields during raids against militants. They also report that militants use underage fighters among their ranks.Because the Syrian government has been banning foreign journalists from the country, obtaining true information about the ongoing events in Syria has been extremely difficult. This has led to untrustworthy information flooding news agencies.Earlier anti-war campaigner Marinella Corregia told RT the UN gets information about victims solely from opposition sources.Human rights groups estimates are about 1,200 children have died during the 15-month conflict in Syria.

Diplomatic efforts still pursued

The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admitted there is “no silver bullet” to instantly fix the tragic situation in Syria.Despite recently stressing that Russia supports neither side in the Syrian conflict, Moscow has been given strong diplomatic support to Damascus in the UN, where Russia and China vetoed a number of consecutive resolutions on Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stressed that the situation in Syria should be resolved from within the country, not with the help of a foreign interference.Besides that, Moscow is still fulfilling its arms contracts with Damascus which caused US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nulandto remark that “putting foreign military forces into this situation… will turn it into a proxy war.”Moscow says it is not going to denounce military contracts with Damascus since the weapons being supplied are defensive and do not fall under any UN sanctions. Accusations against Moscow being excessively supportive of Assad’s regime come at a time when some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have practically openly being supplying weapons and ammunition to the Syrian rebels.A spokesperson for Kofi Annan has announced that the UN envoy on Syria could be forced to ask influential world powers to “twist arms” to enforce Annan’s peace plan for Syria.This statement was made after Israeli mass media has made public alleged plans of the US administration to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.Israel’s Debka news agency reported that the White House wants an air offensive targeting the regime military command centers to oust President Bashar Assad.