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The new leader of the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations to authorize the use of force to protect civilians from “annihilation” at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists.
“We call for the continuation of efforts to protect civilians by stopping the killing machine of the authorities,” Abdulbaset Sieda said at a news conference in Istanbul after he was elected to replace Burhan Ghalioun at the helm of the umbrella opposition group.
Sieda’s remarks came as government forces shelled the city of Homs after killing nearly 100 people yesterday, according to activists, and as Russia warned that Syria was sliding toward a full-scale civil war.
Opposition groups have been struggling to unify as the international community searches for ways to prevent the 15- month conflict from deteriorating into further violence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned yesterday that there was an “urgent” need for an international conference, which Iran could attend, to pressure both sides of the conflict.
The international community remains reluctant to use force in Syria where more than 10,000 people have been killed. Russia has cited the NATO military intervention in Libya as an example of what is sees as the abuse of UN powers to bring about a change of regime.
Sieda, a member of the country’s Kurdish minority, assured other communities, including Assad’s Alawite sect, that their rights would be protected in a future democratic and pluralist Syria after the ouster of the government.
His election followed complaints from activists that the SNC has not met their aspirations and has monopolized power. A statement issued on May 17 by the Local Coordination Committees said it “deplored” the situation of the SNC which had drifted from the “spirit and demands of the Syrian revolution.”
Ghalioun told Al Arabiya on May 17, shortly after he was re-elected as head of the umbrella group, that he wanted to stepdown. Sieda represented the National Kurdish Bloc in the SNC, according to the opposition group’s website.
Syrian security forces killed 30 people today, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists. Ninety-six people were slain by Syrian security forces yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, said on its website. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 83 people were killed across Syria, including 29 in Homs, where Syrian forces attacked neighborhoods using shells and heavy machine guns, according to an e-mailed statement from the U.K.-based group.
UN observers on June 8 reached the now-abandoned farming village of Mazraat al-Qubair and found evidence of a massacre. As many as 78 people were killed by forces loyal to Assad in the village, activists said.
The Qubair attack follows the massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla May 25 in one of the worst atrocities of the 15-month uprising.
Assad, 46, is fighting for the survival of his Alawite family’s four-decade hold on power. While more than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni, Assad and the ruling elite are in a minority, belonging to an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam that predominates in Iran and which stands to lose privileges should he fall. Assad has portrayed the unrest as an Arab-Western conspiracy and the rebels as radical Islamists.
To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com