BEIRUT - At least 21 people were killed on Tuesday in an attack in
northern Syria, activists said, and members of a team of UN monitors caught in the battle said they were left in rebel hands.
asked one of the four monitors by phone if they were being held
prisoner. He did not reply. Another said: "We are safe with the (rebel)
A spokesman for the rebel military council said the rebels were working on a safe exit for them.
are now with the Free Army which is protecting them. If they leave, the
regime will terminate them because they have witnessed one of its
crimes and it does not want them to tell the truth," he told Reuters.
Insurgents and pro-government media blamed on each other for the attack in Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province.
monitor told Reuters gunfire had erupted as a seven-man UN team toured
toured Khan Sheikhoun, then a blast damaged one of the group's vehicles.
Other rebel and opposition sources put the death toll from the attack as high as 66.
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Pro-government Addounia TV said "gunmen" had opened fire on the monitors, without reference to casualties.
footage appeared to show a white vehicle like those used by monitors
with damage to its front end. In Damascus Major General Robert Mood, the
head of the UN monitoring mission, told reporters the team was safe,
UK-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,
said Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces had opened fire on a funeral
procession in the town, about 220 km (140 miles) north of Damascus.
group said a total of 46 people had been killed by government forces
across the country. There was no independent confirmation of any of the
claims and counter-claims from Syria, which has limited journalists'
access during its uprising.Opposition votes to keep secular head
attack came hours after the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella
group in which the influence of Islamists is extensive, re-elected
Burhan Ghalioun, a sociologist long resident in France, as its leader
for another three months.
People involved in the vote said the secular Ghalioun was viewed as acceptable to Syria's array of sects and ethnicities.
said more than half of eligible voters turned out for a parliamentary
election last week, part of reforms it says show Assad's intent to
resolve the uprising peacefully.
Khalaf al-Azzawi, head of the
judiciary body that oversaw the election, said 51 percent of eligible
voters had turned out, down slightly from an election in 2007 when the
rule of Assad's Baath party was unchallenged.
At least one
independent figure made it into the assembly, according to results
Azzawi read out in a televised news conference in Damascus. No figures
were given for turnout in cities and towns under siege by government
"The election gave the people the broadest possible
representation," he told a televised news conference in Damascus. "The
election took place with full transparency, democracy, integrity,
supervised and monitored by independent judicial councils which were not
pressured by any side."
Opposition leaders dismissed the
election in advance as a ruse to buy more time for crushing dissent and
said voting was not feasible in areas under continued siege and shelling
from Assad's security forces.
The vote follows amendments to
Syria's constitution to allow more political parties, a move Damascus
has cited as evidence of good faith to move toward a political solution
to the bloodshed.
A peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy
Kofi Annan in April calls for the release of detainees and for peaceful
protests to be allowed.Saudi-Iranian rivalry
bloodshed since has led Saudi Arabia to warn that Annan's plan is
losing credibility. For Sunni Saudi Arabia, the demise of Assad would
deal a welcome blow to his backers in Shi'ite Muslim Iran, Riyadh's
rival for influence in the Gulf.
Elsewhere on Syria's
battleground, opposition activists said government forces killed two
insurgents in the eastern oil town of Deir al-Zor and continued a
campaign of arrests that they said had seen hundreds rounded up in
The Annan plan also calls on Assad's forces and
rebels to allow free distribution of humanitarian aid, over which the
United Nations is at loggerheads with Syria.
The United Nations
has rebuffed a demand by Damascus that it manage the delivery of all
humanitarian aid to a million people in areas stricken by the conflict.
position is a non-starter ... as it should be," said one UN diplomat.
"OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) can't
allow the Syrian government to use it as a way to get people (they want
to arrest) or to deliver aid only to government supporters."
Tuesday, relief group Medecins sans Frontieres said that its fieldwork
in the northern Idlib region indicated health facilities were being
targeted by combatants, and called on all sides to the conflict to
"respect the physical integrity of wounded persons, doctors and health
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told
parliament on Tuesday he would visit Moscow and raise the issue of Syria
with Russia, one of Damascus's few allies.
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