Violence claims more lives as U.N. chief warns Syria is at ‘pivotal moment’

Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters in Damascus that “a third element” was active in Syria, refering to parties other than government forces or the opposition. (Al Arabiya)

Five people were killed on Tuesday when an explosive device detonated in the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Qaboun, in northern Damascus, has been a center of opposition protests demanding the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. It has seen fighting between Assad loyalists and rebels, Reuters reported.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned on Monday that the search for peace in Syria was at a “pivotal moment” and expressed strong concerns of an all-out civil war, as a five-week-old truce was broken yet again claiming more lives.

As NATO ruled out military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a spokesman for U.N. leader Ban said at a Chicago summit of the alliance that he was increasingly worried about the situation in Syria.

“The secretary general said we were at a pivotal moment in the search for a peaceful settlement to the crisis and that he remained extremely troubled about the risk of an all-out civil war,” Ban’s spokesman said.

The violence across Syria claimed at least 33 lives on Monday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists at the Local Coordination Committees.

Violence claims more lives

On the ground, government forces shelled the town of Azaz in Aleppo suburbs, while scores of people were wounded in Salah Eddin neighborhood in Aleppo when security forces fired at protesters, activists told Al Arabiya.

Huge explosions were heard in al-Qaboun region in Damascus, while each of Zamlaka, Hazza and Ain Tarma were exposed to intensive shelling, activists at the General Revolution Commission said. In al-Haska, intensive clashes erupted between government troops and army defectors near the headquarters of the State Security and al-Baath Party.

Fierce fighting in an area between Aleppo and neighboring Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, killed at least 18 soldiers and two army deserters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based watchdog said nine army deserters were killed overnight as they retreated under cover of darkness from Jisr al-Ab village near the Damascus suburb of Duma, according to AFP.

Also in the Damascus area, troops fired on people at a funeral, the Observatory said.

Syrian forces shelled and then stormed the village of Qastoun, the Observatory said.

Rami Abu Adnan, an activist living in Hama city, said he was hearing reports from residents of Qastoun that dozens of mortar bombs had hit the village and there were casualties, according to Reuters.

London-based Amnesty International said in its annual report Tuesday the Syrian government may have committed crimes against humanity by using “lethal and other excessive force against peaceful protesters” and “torturing” detainees in its crackdown.

The latest violence comes after a rocket-propelled grenade exploded on Sunday near U.N. observers in Duma, and at least 48 people were killed elsewhere in the country.

No one was hurt in the Duma blast, which came as U.N. mission head Major General Robert Mood and peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous were leading observers around the trouble spot.

No intention of interference

NATO, which undertook a major air war in Libya to back rebels who fought Muammar Qaddafi’s forces last year, said it has “no intention” of taking military action against Assad’s regime.

“We strongly condemn the behavior of the Syrian security forces and their crackdowns on the Syrian population,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a Chicago summit on Sunday.

“But again NATO has no intention to intervene in Syria.”

NATO states have come under criticism for backing the air war in Libya but ruling out military intervention in Syria, where opposition demonstrators and badly outgunned rebels have been hammered by heavily-armed regime forces.

Sunday’s blast followed several other close calls for the U.N. monitors since they deployed in Syria, where 266 observers are now on the ground according to Mood.

The regime and its opponents trade accusations after such attacks.

An Islamist group, al-Nusra Front, on Monday claimed responsibility for a weekend suicide car bomb attack in Syria’s main eastern city of Deir Ezzor that killed at least nine people and wounded 100 others.

It said it was “determined to continue its operations to clean the land of the Alawites and end the injustice that strikes the Sunnis” in Syria.

Damascus says it shares the U.N. plan’s goal of a negotiated path out of bloodshed, and points to its recent constitutional change and parliamentary elections as proof of its sincerity. The opposition dismisses both as farcical.

The state news agency SANA said Assad called on the new parliament to convene on Thursday, and 16 members of the security forces killed by “terrorist” gangs were buried on Monday.

Ladsous told reporters in Damascus that “a third element” was active in Syria -- using a phrase which U.N. officials have employed to describe parties other than government forces or the opposition.

“Yes there are ... third elements and these people are not committed to the cause of the Syrian people,” said Ladsous, who was in a convoy outside Damascus on Sunday when a roadside bomb struck 150 meters away.

“They are committed to their own agenda so we have to keep a watchful eye that what we are dealing with.”

Syrian authorities say they are battling Islamist militants, including al-Qaeda.

The government has clashed with the United Nations over the means of delivering humanitarian aid to about a million Syrians, with Damascus demanding control over the distribution of supplies. U.N. officials have said that might let Syria get into opposition strongholds and punish rebels by denying aid.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told the U.N. peacekeeping chief that the global body should also show concern about the impact of Western sanctions on the wider Syrian population, SANA said.

“Expanding the scope of aid means that the (United Nations) cannot claim to care for the destiny of some one million Syrians affected by armed acts while ignoring 23 million Syrians whose livelihood and subsistence are targeted by European and U.S. sanctions,” it quoted him as saying.

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