32 killed in Syria; violence spills into Lebanon

Most deaths occur in central Homs province, flashpoint region for opposition, gov't battles; several shells hit Lebanese village.

By REUTERS
March 22, 2012 11:01
2 minute read.
Syrian tanks in Deir al-Zour

Syrian tanks in Deir al-Zour_370 . (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 32 civilians were killed in Syria on Wednesday, the majority in government shelling on towns in Syria's central Homs province.

The conflict spilled over Syria's borders late on Wednesday when several shells hit the Lebanese border village of al-Qaa and nearby fields, injuring one person, residents said.

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Al-Qaa, 10 km from the Syrian border, has been the first stop for many of the 7,000 Syrian refugees who have fled fighting into Lebanon.

Refugees complain that they are pursued by Syrian forces, who have often fired across the border, but al-Qaa residents said this was the first time artillery has been used.

Adding to the pressure on Damascus, European Union governments are set to impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's wife Asma on Friday, EU diplomats said, meaning that she will no longer be able to travel to the 27-nation bloc or buy products from EU-based shops in her own name.

The sanctions, which still need formal approval from ministers, come after the British-born former investment banker became the focus of media attention when a trove of emails obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper appeared to show her spending tens of thousands of dollars on internet shopping sprees while Syria descended into bloodletting.

At least 8,000 people have died in the revolt, according to UN figures. Violence has intensified in recent weeks as pro-government forces bombard rebel towns and villages, looking to sweep their lightly armed opponents out of their strongholds.



The army fired mortars into the Khalidiya district of Homs city, while artillery targeted the rebel town of Rastan, north of Homs city. Video also showed shelling of the ancient Apamea castle at Qalat Mudiq, near Hama.

Opposition activists said the army used tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft guns on the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Irbin early Wednesday, which were retaken from rebels two months ago but have seen renewed insurgency in recent days.

The official Syrian news agency SANA reported the funerals of seven security force members killed in the fighting.

Reports from Syria cannot be independently verified because officials have barred access to rights groups and journalists.

Russia and China, competing with Western powers for influence in the Middle East, previously vetoed two UN draft resolutions that would have condemned Damascus and have resisted calls from Western and Arab states for Assad to stand down.

But faced by growing global outrage at the bloodshed, the two countries agreed to a so-called "presidential statement." They are generally non-binding documents but do require unanimous support in the Security Council.

Russia, one of Assad's few remaining allies, praised the document as pragmatic. "The most important thing is that there are no ultimatums ... and no suggestions as to who carries more blame," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Berlin.


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