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72 people executed in Aleppo; Moscow condemns US aid to rebels
- Saturday, March 02, 2013 - From Print Edition


GENEVA/DAMASCUS: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Friday that the spiralling conflict in Syria, where some 70,000 people have been killed over the past two years, was breaking the country apart.


“The military solution in Syria is leading to the dissolution of Syria,” the UN chief said in Geneva, asking: “What atrocity must occur to finally stir the world to act?”


With the brutal, sectarian-tinged conflict between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels poised to enter its third year, Ban called for a renewed drive to halt the strife.


The United Nations says about 70,000 people have been killed, and with at least 5,000 Syrians a day fleeing this conflict-ravaged homeland, the total number of refugees is expected to top 1.1 million soon.


“For two years now, we have seen suppression of people’s aspiration for change, the flight of ever-greater numbers of people from their homes, and the daily escalation of killing, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Ban said.


“The United Nations and our humanitarian partners are doing all we can to provide assistance. But in Syria and anywhere else, we must never use humanitarianism to avoid the tougher choices,” he insisted.


Ban said it was down to all sides in Syria to come to the negotiating table, but urged the international community not to lose focus on the conflict there. “We cannot change the channel and wish it away,” he said.


“Those with the political power to change things must answer to every mother and every child in Syria. Inaction in the councils of peace looks like indifference in the cauldron of war,” he added.


“The Security Council must no longer stand as a silent witness to the slaughter. At long last, it must come together and establish the parameters for the democratic transition that might be the last best hope for Syria,” the UN chief said.


UN-mandated human rights investigators have also warned of increased radicalisation and sectarianism—driven by foreign fighters, honed in conflict zones such as Libya or Afghanistan—in the bloody civil war in the nation of 21 million.


Meanwhile, Syria and ally Russia denounced on Friday a US pledge to provide direct aid, but no arms, to rebel fighters, saying it will fuel more violence in the nearly two-year war.


The opposition, meanwhile, accused regime forces of a new “massacre” in the northern province of Aleppo, with 72 people executed and burned, while Islamist fighters reportedly seized a crossing on the Iraqi border.


The United States said on Thursday it would provide direct aid to the rebels in the form of food and medical assistance, as well as $60 million in funding for the political opposition. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the aid package alongside Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the opposition National Coalition, after talks in Rome of the Friends of Syria group of Arab and Western nations.


Russia’s foreign ministry said the decision would backfire and encourage “extremists to take power by force.”


But senior opposition figure Burhan Ghalioun told AFP it was the very failure to arm the rebels that “favours the rise of extremists,” saying he hoped Washington would realise this was a “mistaken policy.”


Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the US decision was “unfortunate” and that it was time instead for the opposition to come up with a “well-articulated political programme to be able to enter into talks with the Syrian government.”


The opposition and outgunned rebels have repeatedly urged world powers to arm them, but the West fears that the weapons will fall into the hands of Islamic extremists also battling Assad’s regime. For its part, the European Union renewed on Thursday wide-ranging sanctions against Syria’s regime while leaving the door open to providing technical assistance, including training, to the opposition.


And the New York Times quoted State Department officials as saying the CIA has been training Syrian rebels in Jordan since last year but not providing them with weapons or ammunition.


The death toll appeared to grow, with claims from the coalition that regime forces executed 72 people after a raid on Monday on Malkiyeh village in Aleppo province, adding that 49 bodies had been identified.