Syrian activists appeal for international help

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2011 11:05 AM
Syrian activists appeal for international help

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria's underground opposition appealed to the international community on Thursday to send in human rights monitors to help deter military attacks on civilians in an increasingly bloody crackdown on popular unrest.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, an umbrella bloc of grassroots activists, said a rise in the number of protesters killed of late during the almost six-month-old revolt had won over many reluctant Syrians to the need for outside help.

"Calling for outside intervention is a sensitive issue that could be used by the regime to label its opponents as traitors. We are calling for international observers as a first step," spokesman Ahmad al-Khatib told Reuters.

"If the regime refuses it will open the door on itself for other action, such as no-tank or no-fly zones," he said.

Syrian protesters have been chanting slogans calling for international protection but there has been no hint in the West of an appetite for a repeat of NATO air strikes that played a key role in the fall of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

No country has proposed the kind of intervention in Syria, such as a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, that NATO aircraft have carried out in Libya because of major geo-political risks.

Unlike Libya, Syria straddles the fault lines of Middle East conflict; it has powerful allies such as Iran and clout in volatile Lebanon and Iraq.

But the West has called on President Bashar al-Assad, whose family and their minority Alawite sect have dominated mainly Sunni Muslim Syria for 41 years, to step down and has imposed increasingly tough punitive sanctions.

Yasser Saadeldine, an opposition political commentator based in Qatar, said the success of NATO's Libya campaign could encourage the West to reconsider its approach to Syria.

"The defeat of Gaddafi has given the West a historic opportunity to mend ties with the Arab and Muslim world."

In a statement, the activists' bloc said Assad's forces had killed more than 3,000 civilians in their drive to suppress the demonstrations demanding more political freedoms. It said tens of thousands have been arrested, thousands more displaced from their homes and thousands others counted as missing.

It said Syrian authorities had "ignored all laws ... using heavy weapons in its pursuit of repression and killings."

This created an urgent need for the international community to "take all necessary steps to protect civilians according to the United Nations charter," the statement said.

"Although we do not seek Arab or international military intervention ... we blame the regime for any intervention that could occur because of its intransigence and insistence on carrying out cold-blooded killings."

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)