Red Cross chief visits Syria as killings continue
Jakob Kellenberger to meet Bashar al-Assad after activist network reports 14 more deaths and gang attacks military bus
The deaths of several protesters and security personnel were reported in Syria on Sunday as the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited Damascus to seek access to activists arrested during the five-and-a-half-month uprising.
At least 14 people were shot dead across Syria, including in suburbs of the capital and the western cities of Homs and Hama, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network.
A journalist, Amer Mattar, was among a wave of reported arrests that spread from the capital to the northern port city of Latakia and to Deir Ezzor, near the Iraqi border.
The government said nine people were killed when an "armed gang" opened fire with machine guns at a military bus in central Syria. The state news agency Sana said six soldiers and three civilians had died.
The report could not be confirmed, but activists say there have been limited cases of retaliatory killings in areas subjected to the most brutal crackdowns.
One Homs resident said: "Some people are arming and we have killed security forces and shabiha [pro-regime thugs assisting in the crackdown], but only in retaliation."
The ICRC chief, Jakob Kellenberger, met the foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, and was scheduled to meet the president, Bashar al-Assad, on Monday, Sana said. The visit came as Nabil al-Araby, the head of the Arab League, said he had been given permission to visit Damascus. Last week the 22-country body called on the Syrian regime to stop the bloodshed.
Despite rejecting foreign interference, Syria appears to be granting greater access to foreign delegations amid growing international pressure. Last week a UN humanitarian delegation visited cities including Latakia and Homs, where government forces reportedly opened fire at protesters as the delegation was leaving the city.
"The Syrian government told me that it welcomes the visit of the secretary general at any time and it will probably be this week," Araby told a press conference in Cairo.
On Saturday four of Syria's leading businessmen were put under EU sanctions for alleged financial support of the regime, as a European oil embargo was passed. The European energy sanctions will have more effect than the US embargo because the majority of Syrian oil – which accounts for more than a quarter of government revenue – is sold to France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, on Saturday called for further international pressure against the regime in Damascus. But Russia and China have blocked attempts to get the UN security council to adopt a resolution against Syria.
Syria blames foreign-backed armed groups for the ongoing violence in which at least 2,200 people have died, according to the UN. Thousands more have been detained.
Nour Ali is the pseudonym of a journalist based in Damascus
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds