Last Updated: Tue May 15, 2012 22:23 pm (KSA) 19:23 pm (GMT)

U.N. observer convoy bombed in Syria as 20 people are killed at funeral procession

At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded when Syrian regime forces opened fire on a funeral procession in Idlib province. (Reuters)
At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded when Syrian regime forces opened fire on a funeral procession in Idlib province. (Reuters)

A U.N. observer convoy was bombed Tuesday at a Syrian funeral procession, the opposition said, as the United Nations reported its vehicles were hit but that staff escaped unharmed in apparently the same attack.

At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded when Syrian regime forces opened fire on a funeral procession in Idlib province during a visit by U.N. monitors, a watchdog said.

“The Syrian regime committed a massacre Tuesday during a visit by U.N. monitors to Khan Sheikhun,” in the northwestern province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Separately, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said a roadside bomb exploded in front of a convoy of U.N. ceasefire monitors in Khan Sheikhun, but no injuries were reported among U.N. workers.

Video uploaded to YouTube by activists showed a convoy of U.N. vehicles surrounded by dozens of people before a blast was heard and a puff of smoke went up in front of the leading U.N. -marked jeep.

It was unclear from the footage if anybody was injured, and the jeep was driven off despite having its front hood damaged. The authenticity of the video could not be verified.

Activists said the four-vehicle U.N. convoy in Khan Sheikhun had come under attack and one car was hit by a shell, prompting the monitors to quickly leave the area.

Major Sami al-Kurdi, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, told AFP that the monitors had arrived during the funeral and that their presence had encouraged more mourners to turn out and join the procession.

“The regime dared to attack the procession, however, and then targeted the vehicles of the U.N. observers from a regime checkpoint,” he said.

The Observatory, a Britain-based rights watchdog, called for an international probe into the killings that took place during the funeral of a man killed the day before.

It also urged the 200-strong U.N. monitoring mission overseeing a tenuous ceasefire in Syria to launch its own investigation.

Opposition votes to keep secular head

The 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.

Damascus 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 forces.

“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 U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in April calls for the release of detainees and for peaceful protests to be allowed.

Cross-border ripples

The sectarian dimension of the uprising against Syria has given rise to fears of a spillover beyond its borders, including neighboring Lebanon, which has seen three days of fighting between members of the Alawite sect - to which Syria’s ruling circle belongs - and Sunni Islamists.

At least eight people have been killed and over 70 wounded since fighters in adjacent Alawite and Sunni districts of Tripoli traded fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, following the arrest of a Sunni man who has been charged with membership of a “terrorist” organization.

Syria has demanded Lebanon - where it has influence with the military and intelligence apparatus dating back to the Lebanese civil war and its aftermath - crack down on supporters of insurgents moving arms to them across the Syrian border.

Young men in the Sunni quarter of Bab al-Tebbaneh shouted “There goes the Syrian army, there go the collaborators”, as a Lebanese armoured vehicle rolled through its streets on Tuesday.

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