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UN Diplomats: Syrian Situation Dire


WATCH: Amateur video released by AP shows the top of a minaret crumbling amid a firefight in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour.

Diplomats at the United Nations Security Council say they have received disturbing information about the continuing violence in Syria.

The Security Council on August 10 received a closed-door briefing about the situation from UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez Taranco.


Speaking to reporters after the briefing, British envoy Philip Parham said information suggests that some 2,000 civilians have been killed in Syria and some 13,000 detained by authorities, while tens of thousands of others have fled their homes and several thousand Syrian refugees remain in Turkey.


"Just to remind you of the scale of what we are talking about, some 2,000 civilians have now been killed, the vast majority of them unarmed,” Parham said. “Some 3,000 civilians have been forcibly disappeared. Some 13,000 remain detained. Tens of thousands have fled their home and their land in northern Syria in the face of the offensive. Several thousand Syrian refugees remain in Turkey. There is no access for the media, no access for humanitarian organizations."


Envoys said the Syrian regime had failed to comply with last week's Security Council demand for an immediate halt to all violence, and Western diplomats said the Security Council could consider "further steps" if the Syrian regime fails to stop human rights violations and military repression.


The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said Washington now believes "Syria would be a better place" without President Bashar al-Assad, whom she said "has lost all legitimacy."


Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, called on the regime to implement serious reforms as soon as possible. However, he reiterated Moscow's position that international sanctions against the Syrian regime at this time would not be helpful.


The Syrian ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, denounced what he described as "inaccurate" information being spread by European nations about the situation, and compared the Syrian unrest to this week's rioting that hit Britain.


"It's very indicative and informative to hear the prime minister of England describing the riots and rioters in England by using the term 'gangs,’ while they don't allow us to use the same term for the armed groups and the terrorist groups in my country,” Jaafari said. “This is hypocrisy. This is arrogance."


The anti-regime movement in Syria began in mid-March.


In another development, opposition activists say Syrian troops have expanded their military offensive to crush antigovernment protesters as international pressure grows on Assad to end the violent crackdown.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops stormed two towns, Taftanaz and Sermin, near the Turkish border on August 10.

The London-based group said explosions and heavy gunfire were also reported in the eastern town of Deir el-Zour, which has been under attack by government forces for four days. The Associated Press quoted an eyewitness as saying troops had seized control of the town.

Witnesses also said security forces shot dead at least 11 protesters in the central city of Homs.

New U.S. Sanctions

In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Damascus aimed at crippling the financial infrastructure that supports Assad's regime.

Under a presidential executive order that allows sanctions against proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, the U.S. government moved against the Commercial Bank of Syria and its Lebanon-based subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank.

A presidential executive order that targets human rights abuses imposed sanctions on as Syriatel, Syria's largest mobile-phone operator.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the sanctions were part of a larger diplomatic effort by the United States to enlist international condemnation and punishment of the Syrian regime.

"This is very much the focus of the diplomacy that we're engaged with, with the Europeans, with Syria's neighbors," Nuland said, "to encourage as many countries as possible to take national action, to tighten the noose, to ensure that we do as much as possible to increase the pressure on Assad and our own sanctions are designed to deny him the money to commit this kind of violence."

So far, President Barack Obama has stopped short of calling for Assad to step down, as he did with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and current Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, both of whom were the focus of popular uprisings.

But Western news agencies, quoting administration officials, say Obama will call this week for Assad to leave power.

Turkish Pressure

Syrian tanks and forces did withdraw from the flashpoint protest city of Hama on August 10.

The withdrawal was confirmed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sent his ambassador to Hama to witness the pullout.

Erdogan, speaking in Ankara, said Syria's withdrawal of tanks from the central city of Hama showed that Turkey's diplomatic efforts were effective.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who delivered a stern message from Ankara to Assad on August 9, said that Ambassador Omer Onhon toured the city and met residents and "he was together with people for the noon prayer."

Earlier today, Erdogan, whose country has enjoyed close trade ties with Syria in recent years, urged the Syrian government to take steps toward reform within the next 15 days.

"Turkey's message to Assad is very clear: stop all kinds of violence and bloodshed," he said in Ankara.

compiled from agency reports

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