- - Monday, September 3, 2012

Syrian warplanes bombed a northern town Monday, killing at least 19 people, activists said, while the new U.N. envoy to the country acknowledged that brokering an end to the nation’s civil war will be a “very, very difficult” task.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the airstrikes targeted a residential area in the northern town of al-Bab, about 20 miles from the Turkish border. The observatory said 19 people were killed in the air raid; the Local Coordination Committees put the death toll at 25.

Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition group pleaded Monday for weapons and urgent military intervention to defend civilians from bombardments by President Bashar Assad’s army.

“We need a humanitarian intervention, and we are asking for military intervention for the Syrian civilians,” Syrian National Council leader Abdel Basset Sayda said in Madrid, after meeting Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo. “I have the duty of asking for weapons that will allow us to defend against the Syrian armor and weapons that are killing civilians all the time.”

Mr. Sayda told a joint news conference that the Syrian conflict had killed 30,000 people and forced millions from their homes, including more than 3 million internal refugees and 250,000 who had fled the country. Another 100,000 had been detained.

“Every day, we have dozens of martyrs and hundreds of wounded and disappeared,” he said in Arabic, addressing journalists through a translator. “We are seeking very quick action by the international community,” he said.

Syria’s opposition believes the European Union could persuade Russia to change its posture in the U.N. Security Council so as to establish safe havens for refugees, Mr. Sayda said.

In Paris on Monday, key European officials warned that Western powers are preparing a tough response if the Assad regime deploys chemical or biological weapons in the civil war.

Syria’s leaders have said the country, which is believed to have nerve agents and mustard gas, as well as Scud missiles capable of delivering them, could use chemical or biological weapons if it were attacked from outside.

“Our response would be massive and blistering,” if Assad forces use such weapons, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RMC radio.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons he had asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to begin preparations so the U.N. could quickly deploy experts to make checks if “we have any reports of such chemical weapons being used or moved.”

Mr. Hague said the U.S., France and Britain had been clear to Mr. Assad that the use of chemical weapons could prompt a dramatic change in their handling of Syria’s civil war. President Obama has called the issue a “red line” for the U.S.

Mr. Fabius confirmed that Western countries are monitoring the movement of the weapons in Syria to be ready to “step in” immediately if necessary. “We are discussing this notably with our American and English partners,” he said.

The French minister said Russia and China are “of the same position” but did not elaborate.

China and Russia repeatedly have used their veto powers in the Security Council to block U.S.- and Arab-backed action that could have led to sanctions against Mr. Assad’s regime.

The foreign ministries of both China and Russia declined immediate comment on Monday.



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