|Friday, 15 June 2012 12:48|
HAFFEH, Syria The Syrian town of Haffeh was smouldering and nearly deserted on Thursday after days of clashes between government forces and rebels, while activists reported more army assaults on pro-opposition areas across the country.
United Nations monitors had been trying to enter the town after several days of fighting, but were forced to turn back on Tuesday, when a crowd attacked them.
They finally gained access on Thursday to find state buildings burned down, shops abandoned and a body lying in the street. Smoke rose from destroyed buildings and burned-out cars littered the roads. There were signs of heavy bombardment.
Only a handful of residents could be seen and one man said 26,000 people had fled.
Rebels pulled out of the town this week, saying the thousands of remaining citizens risked being killed in cold blood, a warning echoed by the United States.
Violence has surged in recent weeks after rebels abandoned a ceasefire negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan in his efforts to ease the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and the movement fighting to end his family"s four-decade rule.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across the country, said 44 people were killed on Thursday. Most were civilians and rebels, but there were also three security personnel among the dead, it added.
Assad"s forces have used troops, tanks and helicopters to hit rebel-controlled suburbs near the capital Damascus, parts of eastern Deir al-Zor province and villages in the northern and western parts of Aleppo province, near the Turkish border.
In Douma, about 15 kilometres from Damascus, activists said tanks had entered the city outskirts and government forces were battling rebel fighters. At least two people were killed and 15 wounded, they added.
The uprising against Assad"s rule began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement in March 2011, but, in the face of a crackdown by his forces, has turned into an armed insurgency.
The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed by government forces, while Syria says at least 2,600 members of the military and security forces have been killed by what it calls foreign-backed "Islamist terrorists."
State news channel Syria TV said security forces had arrested a man who was part of Jabhat al-Nusra, a little known militant group that has claimed several suicide bombings in Syria. It said the man was planning to blow himself up at a mosque on Friday.
World powers are divided over the next move.
Courtesy: Ottawa Citizen