DAMASCUS: A UN panel said yesterday that government forces are to blame for most rights abuses in the latest unrest sweeping Syria as a watchdog reported an 11th straight day of shelling of a rebel bastion.
President Bashar Assad insisted his government was capable of finding a way out of the crisis gripping his country, even as parliament overwhelmingly voted for a member of his Baath party as speaker following a May 7 election boycotted by the opposition and dismissed by the West as a farce.
In Geneva, the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the army and security forces were behind the majority of serious abuses committed since March this year as they hunt down defectors and opponents.
“Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the Commission in this update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government armed groups,” said the panel.
The commission, set up by the UN Human Rights Council, said “a clear pattern” had emerged of government blockades to “weed out” wanted people and their families, causing children to die for lack of adequate health care.
The report comes hot on the heels of accusations by Amnesty International that “the pattern and scale of state abuses may have constituted crimes against humanity.” The London-based rights watchdog denounced the UN Security Council for failing to refer Assad to the International Criminal Court as it had done with Libya’s Qaddafi.
The allegations came as government forces pounded the rebel stronghold of Rastan, in central Syria, for an 11th consecutive day, killing at least three civilians, according to a Britain-based watchdog.
Violence elsewhere killed 10 people, including four summarily executed in Basamis, in Idlib province in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, condemning it as a “contravention of international treaties.” Government forces have been trying to overrun Rastan since May 14. Rebel fighters from the battered central city of Homs regrouped in the town, which straddles the main highway linking Damascus to the north.
Elsewhere in the country, one civilian and soldier were killed in eastern Deir Ezzor province, according to the Observatory.
Also, the corpses of six civilians kidnapped earlier this week were discovered in the central province of Hama, it said.
More than 12,600 people have been killed in Syria since a revolt against Assad’s rule broke out in March 2011, including nearly 1,500 after a UN-backed truce took effect on April 12, according to Observatory figures.
But speaking during talks with a visiting minister from Syria’s key Middle East ally Iran, Assad insisted his government could find a way to resolve conflict.
“Syria has been able to overcome the pressures and threats it has faced for years and is able to get out of this crisis thanks to the strength of its people and commitment to unity and independence,” state media quoted him as telling Communications and Information Technology Minister Reza Taqipour.
His comments came as parliament convened for the first time since the controversial May 7 election which the authorities held despite the bloodshed rocking the country.
MPs voted by 225 to eight to elect Jihad Lahham, head of the bar association and a member of the ruling Baath party, as speaker. There were 16 blank or spoiled ballots.
Despite changes to the constitution ending the Baath party’s five-decade domination of power, more than 160 of the 250 members of parliament are Baathists.
“We pledge to President Bashar Assad to respond to every citizen,” the new speaker said.
The main opposition Syrian National Council, which boycotted the election along with other dissident groups, meanwhile began searching for a new leader after it accepted the resignation of Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun.
The SNC “office decided to accept the resignation and to ask the council president to pursue his work until the election of a new president at a meeting on June 9-10,” it said in a statement after a two-day meeting in Istanbul.
Ghalioun announced on May 17 plans to step aside to avert divisions within the SNC after activists inside Syria accused him of monopolizing power.
As the violence in Syria threatened to spill over into neighboring Lebanon, the US embassy in Beirut warned Americans to be aware of prevailing tensions, in an e-mail to its citizens after deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Damascus camps.
FROM: AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE