- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BEIRUT (AP) — Government forces surrounded residents of a restive Syrian village in a valley and killed all those trapped inside — more than 100 people — in a barrage of rockets, tank shells, bombs and gunfire that lasted for hours, a witness and two activist groups said Wednesday.

The attack on Tuesday pushed the death toll for two days of violence across Syria to more than 200 and was one of the deadliest single events of the entire nine-month uprising against President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian rule.

The White House reacted by renewing its call for Mr. Assad to step down, saying his regime does not deserve to rule.

The offensive targeted the village of Kfar Owaid, about 30 miles from the northern border with Turkey. It is part of the rugged mountainous region of Jabal al-Zawiyah, which has been the scene of clashes between troops and army defectors and intense anti-government protests for weeks. Syrian troops began attacking the region on Saturday, residents said.

“It was an organized massacre,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “The troops surrounded people then killed them.”

Syrian officials have not commented on the allegations.

The White House said Mr. Assad’s regime has no credibility and has “flagrantly violated” its commitment to end violence. The statement said the Obama administration is deeply disturbed by continued reports of government-backed violence against the Syrian people.

One villager who is an anti-government activist told the Associated Press by telephone that scores of residents and activists fled Tuesday morning to the nearby Budnaya Valley, where they were completely surrounded by troops. The forces bombarded them with tank shells, rockets and heavy machine-gun fire. The man, who identified himself only as Abu Rabih for fear of government reprisal, said troops also used bombs filled with nails to increase the number of casualties.

“What happened yesterday was a crime against humanity,” Abu Rabih said. He said 110 people were killed in the attack and 56 of the dead were buried in Kfar Owaid on Wednesday. Others were buried in villages nearby.

According to activists, all of those in the valley were unarmed civilians and activists; there were no armed military defectors among them.

Abu Rabih said the Jabal al-Zawiyah region has been under intense attack by government forces since Saturday.

Mr. Assad agreed Monday to allow foreign monitors under an Arab League plan aimed at stopping the bloodshed. But the huge toll from the crackdown on Monday and Tuesday has reinforced opposition suspicions that Mr. Assad is just playing for time to stall a new round of international condemnation and sanctions. The crackdown already has left Mr. Assad internationally isolated and under tremendous pressure from the Arab world as well as the West.

The Arab League plan calls for Syria to halt its crackdown, open talks with the opposition, withdraw military forces from city streets, and allow in human rights workers and journalists

Despite intensified violence, the Arab League appeared to be going ahead with its plans to send the monitors.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby appealed to the Syrian government to shoulder its responsibilities to protect civilians in compliance with its pledges to abide by the league’s plan. He expressed deep concern about reports of an escalation of violence, especially in the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Daraa and Deir el-Zour.

The 22-member Arab League also has suspended Syria’s membership and leveled economic and diplomatic sanctions.

The White House warned Damascus that additional steps will be taken to pressure Mr. Assad’s regime if the Arab League initiative is not  implemented fully.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that “everything must be done to stop this murderous spiral into which Bashar Assad is leading his people more every day.” He added, “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council pass a firm resolution demanding the end to this repression.”

The German government’s human rights commissioner, Markus Loening, called for an immediate end to violence against deserters and demonstrators.

“It is dreadful to see how Bashar Assad and his helpers are clinging onto power and trampling on the Syrian population’s wish for dignity and freedom,” Mr. Loening said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that “it is unacceptable” that so many people were killed, even after Mr. Assad’s regime agreed to an Arab League plan to halt the bloodshed.

Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, described the attack as “brutal massacres and genocide” and said the group has sent messages to members of the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on Syria. The SNC also urged the international community in a statement for international protection of the Syrian people.

Mr. Assad’s regime agreed to allow the monitoring mission after Arab leaders warned they would turn to the U.N. Security Council to try to end the crackdown.

The Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful protests in March, has become increasingly militarized in recent weeks, with clashes nearly every day between troops and army defectors who have joined the movement against Mr. Assad. Idlib province has witnessed some of the most intense clashes. The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died in unrest since March.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot dead three people in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani and one in the northern town of Saraqeb. It added that troops stormed the town of Dael in the southern province of Daraa, wounding dozens of people. The LCC said 12 people were killed Wednesday, five of them in the central province of Hama.

Activists said this bloody crackdown may be an attempt by the regime to crush defectors before the monitors arrive in the country. On Monday, security forces killed up to 70 army defectors as they were deserting their military posts in Idlib near the Turkish border, activists said.

“The regime is trying to control the situation before the Arab League sends its observers, but it’s over. The regime will go,” Mr. Abdul-Rahman said.

Mr. Abdul-Rahman corroborated the account of the witness in Kfar Owaid. He said troops on the outskirts of the village surrounded and fired on crowds of civilians and activists trying to flee out of fear they would be detained. The activist group, which uses a network of local activists to collect information on the crackdown, said 111 were killed in Kfar Owaid on Tuesday.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also said more than 100 people were killed. The accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has banned most foreign journalists and places heavy restrictions on the work of local reporters.

In Damascus, the Iranian Embassy said Wednesday that five Iranian engineers who work at an electricity station in the central Syrian city of Homs had been kidnapped. It said the engineers were kidnapped Tuesday in the restive city, which has witnessed intense anti-regime activities.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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