Civilians ‘summarily executed’ in Homs, as Syrian death toll mounts across the country

Anti-government protesters attend the funeral of Mahmoud al-Moustafa, whom protesters said was killed by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Deir Ezzor. (Reuters)

At least 15 civilians were “summarily executed” by regime forces in a neighborhood of the central Syrian city of Homs overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

“After regime forces raided the neighborhood of Shammas, 15 civilians were found summarily executed,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based watchdog told AFP, qualifying the killings a “massacre.”

He said a Muslim cleric who had six children was among those killed.

As many as sixteen people have also been killed by Syrian forces across the country , activists said, few hours after regime forces shelled central Deraa overnight, killing at least eight people, including two children, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists at the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) and the Syrian Media Center.

Earlier, the Syrian National Council (SNC) issued a statement accusing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of committing a “new massacre” in Khan Sheikhoun town in Idlib. The SNC underlined that the international peace plan has been violated in most of the Syrian cities “from Azzaz in Aleppo to Dael to al-Harak and Kharbat al-Ghazala in Deraa as well as Damascus suburbs, Baniyas, Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deir Ezzor.

At least 21 people were killed earlier on Tuesday in an attack in northern Syria, activists said, and members of a team of U.N. monitors caught in the incident said they were in rebel hands “for their own protection.”

When Reuters asked one of the four monitors by phone if they were being held prisoner, he said: “We are safe with the (rebel) Free Army.”

A spokesman for the rebel military council said the rebels were working on a safe exit for the monitors. An internal U.N. document obtained by Reuters said that a total of six monitors were under rebel “protection” in a “friendly environment.”

“They 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,” rebel Major Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters.

“We will get them out tomorrow,” he said later. The internal U.N. document confirmed the U.N. team in Syria “will conduct a patrol to pick up the mentioned UNMOs (observers)” on Wednesday.

Kurdi told AFP 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.

Each side blamed the other for the attack in Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province.

Some rebel and opposition sources put the death toll from the attack as high as 66.

Pro-government Addounia TV said gunmen had opened fire on the monitors, but did not mention casualties.

The monitor who spoke to Reuters said gunfire had erupted as a seven-man U.N. team toured Khan Sheikhoun, then a blast damaged one of the group’s vehicles.

Ahmed Fawzi, international mediator Kofi Annan’s spokesman, said the convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device.

“Three U.N. vehicles were damaged but no U.N. personnel were hurt in this explosion. The mission has sent a patrol team to the area to help to extract those U.N. military observers,” he said in a statement.

Internet footage appeared to show a white vehicle, like those used by the monitors, with a damaged front. In Damascus Major General Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. monitoring mission, told reporters the team was safe, without elaborating.

A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said government troops had opened fire on a funeral procession in the town, about 220 km (140 miles) north of Damascus.

The group said a total of 46 people had been killed by government forces across the country. There was no independent confirmation, and Syria has limited journalists' access during the uprising.

Meanwhile, the Turkish envoy to the U.N. underlined in a message to the U.N. chief, obtained by Al Arabiya, that Turkey has nothing to do with the Lutfallah II, which the Lebanese authorities had alleged that it carried Syria-bound weapons. He said that the ship did not dock at any of his the Turkish ports. The Turkish envoy also expressed his country’s rejection of the accusations by the Syrian U.N. envoy that Ankara was cooperating with Libya and other countries in sending weapons to Syria.

The sectarian dimension of the uprising has given rise to fears of a spillover beyond Syria's borders, including to neighboring Lebanon, where there have been 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 more than 70 wounded since fighters in adjacent Alawite and Sunni districts of Tripoli began firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, following the arrest of a Sunni man who has been charged with membership of a “terrorist” organization.

Syria -- which has influence with the Lebanese military and intelligence apparatus - has demanded that Lebanon crack down on groups moving weapons across the border to Syrian insurgents.

Although the number of casualties has decreased since the observers began trickling into Syria in mid-April, the violence has not stopped.

The Observatory says more than 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have died since the uprising began on March 15 last year, including more than 900 killed since the April 12 truce.

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