Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday finally agreed to sign off on a statement concerning the violence in Syria Wednesday.
The nonbinding statement supporting the work of Kofi Annan (special envoy to Syria for a joint U.N. and Arab League effort) to end the conflict was signed Wednesday by the entire council, including Russia and China. The two countries, who have connections to the current Syrian regime, had twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions on the topic.
Among other things, the statement calls for a daily two-hour cease fire in order to provide humanitarian aid in the country.
While the statement is seen as diplomatic progress, it appears to have had little immediate impact on the ground, where the violence rages on. The AFP reports that activists say the bombing in Homs by Syrian forces has resumed for a second straight day, killing at least five civilians. Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that Syrian tanks have shelled two districts of Damascus.
Tuesday, March 21: Human Rights Watch on Monday accused Syrian opposition forces of committing human rights abuses as fighting continues in the country.
In an open letter to activists in Syria, the human rights group detailed evidence of "kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members" dating back to September 2011. The evidence includes at least 25 videos that appear to show Syrian security forces confessing to crimes after being tortured.
Human Rights Watch has asked Syrian opposition leaders of the Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council (SNC) to condemn the tactics and forbid their use.
The Guardian reports that Radwan Ziadeh, a leading member of the SNC, has said that his group will co-operate with any investigations into abuses by the opposition, but the letter is getting mostly mixed reviews from opposition leaders. Free Syrian Army Lt. Riad Ahmed told CNN that "a few incidents are a drop in a bucket in comparison to what the regime is committing."
Other news from Syria:
–The city of Homs is under attack again, and this time Syrian forces have killed 23-year-old Abdul Rahman Orfalli, whom activists say is one of the first organizers of the March 2011 protests in Syria, according to CNN.
–The U.N. Security Council is closer to drafting a statement on Syria that won't be met by a Russia and China veto (again). That'll likely be a non-binding "presidential statement" supporting the mission and goals of Kofi Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, CNN reports. Annan has a five-member team on the ground in Syria. They arrived amidst yesterday's intense fighting in Damascus.
Monday, March 20: Fighting between rebels and Syrian security forces broke out on Monday in Damascus, bringing the widespread violence across the country into a district at the heart of Syria's relatively quiet capital city.
The conflict in Damascus follows a car bombing in Damascus on Saturday, in which at least 24 were killed and 140 injured.
As CNN reports, Monday's fighting was concentrated in al-Mazzeh, a neighborhood hosting embassies, security facilities, and the homes of some of those closest to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Opposition forces are saying 8 people have died and 18 members of security forces were injured Monday, while Syrian state media (SANA) says two "terrorists" were killed and a third arrested.
According to the Associated Press (who cite SANA's report) the fighting began when security forces stormed a house believed to be an "armed terrorist" hideout, leading to brutal fighting in the affluent district that lasted for about two hours.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has published details of a leaked document from a former Syrian official - who fled to Turkey - which they say contains information on Assad's strategy to crack down on opposition protests. The documents also indicate that the government spied on the Arab League monitoring mission late last year. As the whistle blower, Abdel Majid Barakat, explained to Al Jazeera, the documents were also intended to boost Assad's morale, and omitted substantial facts in order to "paint [a] beautiful picture."
Sunday, March 18: A car bomb struck a residential neighborhood in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday, reports Reuters. Witnesses claim to have seen bodies in the streets, but the government has not released a death toll, although it did predictably blame “terrorists” for the blast. The Associated Press talks to an Aleppo resident who said a car bomb exploded close to the Political Security Directorate in a neighborhood that has a large Christian population.
As Damascus residents gathered to mourn the victims of Saturday’s bombings, security forces violently broke up an opposition protest of around 200, notes Reuters.
Saturday, March 17: Two suicide car bombs hit Damascus early Saturday, killing at least 24 people and injuring 140, according to SANA, Syria’s official news agency. (Warning: website includes extremely gruesome photographs of charred corpses.) The bombs, which officials quickly described as “terrorist” attacks, appear to have targeted intelligence and security buildings. Citing state television, Reuters puts the death toll at 27.
The bombs shocked residents of Syria’s capital who have enjoyed relative calm as the country has descended into an increasingly violent civil war. No one claimed responsibility for the explosion. It marked the fourth time in three months that bombings of unknown origins have targeted official buildings in Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s largest city, notes the New York Times.
Although some are worried the bombs are a sign that terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, could be aiding those fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, the opposition has said government allies are behind the bombings in order to discredit their efforts. Indeed, as the BBC’s Lina Sinjab notes, it was at least suspicious that the blasts occurred as U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is set to begin a new mission by sending a team to Damascus. In an earlier meeting, Assad had told Annan he would not negotiate with the opposition as long as “terrorists” threatened his country. There were similar explosions just as a previous Arab League mission arrived in the country.
A member of the opposition Syrian National Council tells the Associated Press it seems highly unlikely that armed groups working to topple Assad have the capacity to carry out such a sophisticated attack on the capital, particularly its security institutions. The buildings “are fortresses,” she said. “They are very well guarded.”