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Assad regime expanding use of cluster munitions

BEIRUT: The Syrian regime is expanding its use of widely banned cluster bombs, an international human rights group said yesterday as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year.
In new violence, rebels detonated a powerful car bomb outside a high-rise building in the eastern city of Deir El-Zour, setting off clashes with regime troops, state TV and activists said.
The blast came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Yesterday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country in the past six months, causing mounting civilian casualties.
Two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, the report said. The group said it based its findings on field investigations and analysis of more than 450 amateur videos.
Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long afterwards since many don’t explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.
A senior Syrian government official denied that regime forces use cluster bombs and said, “Many amateur videos are doubtful.”
Yesterday, rebels in Deir El-Zour detonated a car rigged with more than two tons of explosives next to the tallest building in the city, known as the Insurance Building, state TV said.
The TV said rebels entered the building after the blast but were pushed out by government forces.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s foreign policy chief urged caution yesterday about a Franco-British drive to lift an EU arms embargo to help opposition fighters, questioning the impact such a step might have on attempts to reach a political settlement there.
Other EU governments rebuffed efforts by Paris and London at an EU summit on Friday to lift the Syrian arms embargo to help fighters, although they asked foreign ministers to discuss it again next week.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU needed to think “very carefully” about French and British arguments that lifting the embargo would encourage Assad to negotiate.
The EU should also consult UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Moaz Al-Khatib, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, about what impact lifting the embargo might have on their efforts to start talks to end the Syria crisis, she said.
“What we’ve got to make sure of is anything we do does not make that (work) harder,” she said, speaking at a conference.
Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, said he hoped France and Britain would defy the EU if the embargo remains in place.
“I prefer that there is a consensus and a joint resolution,” he said Friday in Istanbul. “But if there’s no consensus, I still think France and Britain will act unilaterally.”

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