Syria to defend govt role in civil war at UN


DAMASCUS – Syria’s foreign minister is expected Monday to defend his country’s handling of the 18-month civil war before the United Nations General Assembly, just as newly released casualty figures put the conflict’s human toll at nearly 28,000.

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem is scheduled to speak to the U.N. General Assembly just days after world leaders painted a grim picture of the conflict.

Syria has dominated much of the U.N. General Assembly discussion — on stage and on the sidelines — as world leaders struggle to find a way to resolve the war that has left the Security Council hopelessly deadlocked.

Moallem is heading up the Syrian delegation at the United Nations where he has been meeting with foreign ministers to drum up support for President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

But Moallem’s anticipated defense of the conflict before the general assembly is unlikely to be well received.

“What has the international community done to stop this carnage?” Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week. “Literally nothing. We have yet to see a single effective action to save innocent lives.”

Germany also slammed the U.N. Security Council for failure to act, and the United States, Britain and France announced they were backing increased support of non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition.

Analysis: Sympathy but few solutions for Syria

The Security Council has been paralyzed by a division over how to halt the killing in Syria. Russia and China have blocked resolutions calling for al-Assad to transfer power and step down, saying the issue should be settled by Syrians.

Iraq will conduct random searches of Iranian planes bound for Syria to check for arms shipments, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said in an interview published Sunday in the al-Hayat newspaper.

Zebari said Iraq will not act as a passageway or a channel for arms to make their way into Syria. “We are not with the militarization of the conflict. We are against the arming the regime or the opposition,” he said.

The foreign minister told the newspaper that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others raised concerns about arms shipments. The United States believes Iran, one of al-Assad’s strongest supporters, is arming government forces.

Clinton has called on Syria’s neighbors to take steps to prevent Iran from using its land and airspace to deliver shipments to Syria.

Iraq faces a difficult task in enforcing the inspections, Zebari said.

“We explained to the U.S. side that Iraq’s air defense capabilities are limited, and we are in the stage of building our air force,” he said.

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Iranian flights over Iraq to Syria began in March but were stopped shortly after at the request of Iraq, Zebari said. The flights resumed in July.

“They said these flights contain no weapons or hardware, and that they transport pilgrims, visitors and so on. But to verify their shipments, we will ask these planes to land,” Zebari said.

Last week, Baghdad rejected a request from North Korea to fly through its airspace to Syria because of a suspicion the flight was carrying arms.

Hama Massacre recalled as troops move into city

Syrian security forces are overseeing the systematic displacement of thousands and then demolishing their neighborhood in the western flashpoint city of Hama, residents told CNN.

As security forces surround the Mesha Alarbeen district in Hama and bulldozers tear down homes inside, the Hama Massacre is still fresh in the minds of many who live there.

Between 3,000 and 40,000 people were believed to have died when the military acting under orders from Hafez al-Assad — the father of the current Syrian president — brutally cracked down on a revolt in 1982. A1983 Amnesty International report put the toll on both sides between 10,000 and 25,000.

Hama is once again an epicenter of the anti-government movement that has roiled the country.

“So far they have razed 120 buildings,” Osamah, a Hama resident who visited the neighborhood on Sunday, told CNN.

The Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011 after unarmed protesters, inspired by the success of popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, took to the streets demanding political reform.

The movement devolved into an armed conflict after a brutal crackdown by government forces.

Newly released casualty figures form the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria put the number of civilians and opposition fighters killed in the unrest at 27,954 people.

Of those casualties, the LCC claims more than 24,000 of those killed were civilians.

Thousands of Syrian troops also have been reportedly killed.

CNN is unable to independently confirm casualty reports as the Syrian government has severely limited the access of international journalists.

The new casualty figures revealed August was the deadliest month in the conflict, with 5,091 killed. In September, 4,071 people were killed, according to the LCC.

The Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011 after unarmed protesters, inspired by the success of popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, took to the streets demanding political reform.

The movement devolved into an armed conflict after a brutal and continuing crackdown by government forces.

Since the unrest began, more than 30,000 people have died, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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