MOSCOW/BEIRUT (AFP/Reuters) - Russia on Friday blasted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call for an overhaul of the Syrian opposition and accused Washington of trying to solve the conflict on its own terms.
“We heard direct orders (from the United States) about what the Syrian opposition should do to form a ‘government in exile,’ and about who should join such a government - up to specific people,” the Russian statement said.
It noted that Washington and Moscow had both agreed in Geneva to support setting up a transition government that would be decided by the Syrians people as a first step for ending the 20-month crisis.
Russia also accused US officials of starting to simply ignore Russia and China’s joint resistance to what Moscow sees as international efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “US representatives are saying that they do not intend to wait for a change in Russia and China’s position. So they are bluntly making clear that they see the Syria conflict being settled exclusively on their terms,” the ministry said.
A video showing what appears to be rebels executing Syrian soldiers most probably reveals “war crimes” that could be used as evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice, the UN human rights body said Friday.
“It is very likely that this was a war crime, another one,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told reporters in Geneva.
He was reacting to a video posted on YouTube of what appeared to be Syrian rebels beating around 10 injured soldiers before lining them up on the ground and executing them with automatic rifles.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that rebels had killed 28 soldiers during attacks on three army checkpoints.
Colville said he and his colleagues had only just seen the video and that it was difficult to verify who was involved.
“Like other videos of this sort, it is difficult to verify immediately... It will be examined carefully,” he said. At first glance, he said, it appeared that “these were soldiers who were no longer combatants and therefore, at this point, it looks very like a war crime.”
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have withdrawn from their last base near the northern town of Saraqeb, further weakening his ability to fight rebels in the country’s largest city Aleppo, a violence monitoring group said on Friday.
Saraqeb straddles the junction of two main highways leading to Aleppo and the pullout will make it harder for government forces to reinforce or resupply Aleppo, where they have been battling with rebels for control since late July.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops had retreated from Alwees, northwest of Saraqeb, leaving the town and surrounding areas “completely outside the control of regime forces”.
Saraqeb, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Aleppo, lies at the meeting point of Syria’s main north-south highway, linking Aleppo with Damascus, and another road connecting Aleppo to the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
With areas of rural Aleppo and northern border crossings to Turkey now under rebel control after 19 months of conflict, the loss of Saraqeb would leave Aleppo city further isolated from Assad’s southern strongholds.
Any convoys using the highways from Damascus or the Mediterranean would be vulnerable to rebel attack. This would force the army to use smaller rural roads or send supplies on a dangerous road from Al-Raqqa in the east, according to the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdelrahman.
Meanwhile, thousands of people opposed to President Bashar al-Assad protested in Syrian towns on Friday to urge the international community to act to halt the regime’s bloody repression of their uprising.
Following a nationwide theme, protesters demanded justice for the victims of a regime crackdown in Daraya, a Damascus town where more than 500 people were reportedly killed in late August in the worst massacre of the uprising.
“Daraya will not kneel. Not by tank or gun. We sacrifice our blood and souls for you,” chanted protesters in the rebel-held northwestern town of Binnish, waving revolutionary flags.
They also carried a sign reading: “No to sectarianism, no to division”, at a time when residents and activists have reported simmering tensions between religious communities in the strife-torn country.
In Kfar Nabal, a town in the northwestern Idlib province, demonstrators held a sign reading: “It is not a civil war. It’s a genocide. Leave us to die, but do not lie”.
They also contrasted the toll of hurricane Sandy in the United States with that of the 19-month uprising, using the name of Assad’s mother, with a sign reading: “Sandy: 90 victims — Anissa: 40,000 victims”.
In Damascus, despite ongoing violence, protests calling for Assad’s ouster took place in the districts of Rokn Eddin, Assali, Qaboon, and in the nearby town of Babila, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists on the ground, reported that air strikes targeted worshippers as they exited mosques in the town of Zamalka, just outside the capital.
Demonstrators traditionally gather at mosques to begin the weekly protests following the Muslim day of prayer. Other slogans referred to recent statements by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has denounced the rise of extremism in Syria, accusing the Islamists of “hijacking” the uprising.
“Clinton: our radicalism, if it exists, is the result of your lies,” read one sign carried at a protest in the town of Hass in Idlib, as seen in video posted by activists on the Internet.