BEIRUT

Middle East

Officials warn of Syrian civil war, 7 killed

  • Members of the Free Syrian Army take part in an anti-regime protest in Qusayr, 15 kms (nine miles) from Homs in restive central Syria, on May 7, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR

  • U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meets guests after addressing a news conference during his official visit to Yangon May 1, 2012. REUTERS/Minzayar

BEIRUT: Security forces killed at least seven people in fighting across Syria on Tuesday, activists said, in a 14-month-old revolt that the Red Cross and Arab League warned was becoming a civil war.

Across Syria, clashes between state forces and rebels who have joined the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad raged overnight and flared again on Tuesday afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Despite a shaky truce, the carnage in Syria has not stopped even as the government held a parliamentary poll a day earlier. Damascus promoted it as a milestone on its path to reform, but the opposition slammed the election as a sham and boycotted the vote.

As election officials counted votes on Tuesday, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said fighting had been so intense in some parts of Syria that at times the conflict in those places qualified as a localised civil war.

Jakob Kellenberger said he was very worried about conditions in Syria, where United Nations observers are being deployed to monitor a ceasefire agreement that has been repeatedly violated by state forces and by rebels.

"I really hope that the U.N. observers will deploy rapidly," he told reporters in Geneva, indicating concern for the fate of U.N . envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan for Syria. "I still hope it will not fail."

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby expressed similar sentiments.

"Escalating military action in Syria will end up leading to a civil war in Syria, which no one wants to see," he told reporters during in a trip to Beijing.

Beyond the ceasefire and monitoring mission, Annan's plan also calls for free access for journalists and humanitarian aid in the country. So far, 50 of some 300 monitors have arrived with the whole team expected to be assembled by the end of May.

On Tuesday, the British-based Observatory said security forces were using rockets and heavy machinegun fire on the village of al-Hassan in the rebellious central Homs province, as they sought to wrest control from rebels in the area.

Similar bombardment in northern Idlib province that began after midnight killed at least three people, it said.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed by state forces trying to crush the revolt against four decades of rule by Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad.

What began as a peaceful protest movement has been overtaken by an armed insurgency against Syrian forces. The government says the rebels are terrorists steered by foreign powers and says more than 2,600 people from the police and army have been killed.

Despite Syria's bloodshed, the state news agency SANA reported a "notable" turnout for Monday's vote but has yet to provide details of participation.

Many residents in Damascus said on Tuesday that few Syrians were voting, and a Reuters team at a polling booth saw only three ballots cast in their 40-minute visit.

Initial results reported by the pro-government Syrian channel al-Ikhbariya suggested that around 700,000 people voted in Aleppo, the most populated city and province in Syria.

Aleppo city has a population of more than 2 million, while the province is home to nearly 5 million people.

Activists insisted the numbers were inflated. "I went to three different polling stations, I am telling you turnout was weak," said a student called Tamim. "No one can believe in an election while people are dying."

 
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