Middle East

Rocket hits Aleppo, bombs ravage Deraa

Syrian emergency personnel gather next to the scene of an explosion in Aleppo on January 18, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS: Two car bombs exploded in southern Syria and a rocket slammed into a building in the north, killing at least 12 people in a spike in violence Friday that Syrian state media blamed on rebel fighters.

The rocket attack in Aleppo and the suicide car bombings in Deraa, south of Damascus, occurred during a particularly bloody week nearly two years after an uprising began against President Bashar Assad’s regime. Opposition activists said Thursday a pro-government militia swept through a town in central Syria, torching houses and killing more than 100 people.

Also, two journalists were killed over the last 48 hours – the veteran French journalist Yves Debay by a reported government sniper in Aleppo, and Al-Jazeera’s Mohammad Hourani in the village of Busr al-Harir, in Deraa.

Hourani, 33, was embedded with rebels and was shot as he ran across a street, following a fighter who had made the same sprint seconds earlier, based on video footage of the incident.

The state-run SANA news agency said the morning attack in Aleppo had been carried out by terrorists, a term the regime uses for rebels. But the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, and the Aleppo Media Center, a network of anti-regime activists, accused the government of launching an airstrike.

Tuesday, 87 people were killed in twin blasts at Aleppo University, and the weekly demonstrations held around the country were staged to salute those killed in the blasts.

Syria’s state-run TV claimed that shortly after the rocket hit the building in Aleppo, militants linked to an AlQaeda group detonated cars filled with explosives near a mosque in Deraa as worshippers were leaving following Friday prayers.

Video broadcast on Syrian state TV showed several floors of the targeted building collapsed in a government-controlled area of Aleppo. The video showed a man carrying a baby out of the damaged building and another man was seen clutching his head as blood ran down his forehead. Residents were also seen looking for people buried in the rubble. At least one wounded person on a stretcher was seen being carried away in a Red Crescent ambulance.

State TV reports said both attacks caused many casualties, but it was not immediately known how many people were killed or wounded in the two cities, both major fronts in the war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 people were killed in the Aleppo attack and dozens were wounded. The group relies on reports from activists on the ground.

With the two sides deadlocked on the northern front, rebels have increasingly targeted state security facilities and government institutions in other parts of the country, including in the capital, Damascus. Suicide attacks have been a hallmark of the Islamic rebel units that have been fighting alongside other opposition fighters.

State TV said fighters with the Nusra Front, a group the U.S. has declared a terrorist organization, were behind the twin blasts in Deraa, the birthplace of the revolt that erupted in March 2011.

Fighting flared between rebels and Assad’s loyalists in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, killing 12 people and wounding at least 20 others, the U.N. refugee agency said. Children were among the casualties, according to a statement issued by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. The agency called on both sides to “pull back from civilian areas, including refugee camps.” The Palestinian camp called Yarmouk has been the scene of heavy clashes between rebels and regime loyalists since mid-December, when opposition fighters moved into the camp during an attempt to storm the capital.

About half of Yarmouk’s 150,000 residents have fled since fighting erupted, according to UNRWA, which administers Palestinian camps in the Middle East. Some sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, and others found shelter in UNRWA schools in Damascus and other Syrian cities.

Separately, the U.N. Security Council’s president said the council was divided over referring reports of war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Five council members – France, Britain, Luxembourg, Australia and South Korea – made a joint statement urging the world body to send the problem to the International Criminal Court to prosecute war criminals.

But council president Masood Khan, the ambassador of Pakistan, says the council is divided in private deliberations over what to do.

Some council members contend that having the court pursue prosecutions will encourage Assad’s regime to dig in and resist to the end.

They spoke after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the Council that the death toll in Syria has reached 60,000.

“I firmly believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed, are being committed and should be investigated,” Pillay told reporters.

“I have urged the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court for investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity on the part of all parties engaged in this conflict,” she added.

Syria is not an ICC member and the Security Council is the only body which can refer the conflict to the court.

Russia and China have used their power as permanent members of the Security Council to block three resolutions against Syria.

Diplomats at the council meeting said there was discussion of the calls for an ICC investigation but still opposition from Russia and its allies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 19, 2013, on page 1.




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