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US fears new Syria massacre by Assad government

Published: June 12, 2012 | 7:02 am
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THE United States has voiced fears the Syrian government – led by Bashar al-Assad – is planning a new massacre.

The concerns come as regime helicopters fired on rebel stronghold towns and raging violence killed more than 100 people on Monday.

It also follows the release of a UN report revealing how the Syrian army uses kids as “human shields”.

Government helicopter gunships strafed rebel positions in Al Heffa, as well as the opposition stronghold of Rastan in the central province of Homs.

An activist broke down in tears as she told how tanks were parked on the edge of Al Heffa, a town of 30,000 set in rugged countryside near Turkey.

“They have never come this close before,” Sem Nassar said. “There’s only one doctor working to treat the wounded in the town.” Most residents had fled, she said.

Such reports prompted Washington to voice concerns that Assad’s regime is planning to carry out new atrocities.

It comes after the massacre of 55 people last week in Al Kubeir and at least 108 near Houla on May 25-26.

“The United States joins Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan in expressing deep alarm by reports from inside Syria that the regime may be organising another massacre,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Nuland said the tactics showed the Assad regime, cracking down on the most severe threat to his family’s four-decade rule, was “increasingly desperate”.

“What government voluntarily uses helicopters and fires from them on their own civilians if they’re not desperate? What government depends on a bunch of thugs in trucks – irregulars – if they’re not desperate?” she asked.

But Nuland again ruled out US military intervention.

Russia has strongly opposed the prospect of force to remove Assad, whose family has been a key ally of Moscow since the Cold War.

“The concern has been that putting foreign military forces into this situation … will turn it into a proxy war,” Nuland said.

A spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said he was “gravely concerned by the latest reports of violence coming out of Syria and the escalation of fighting” by both sides.

The former UN chief who drew up a faltering peace plan, was referring to shelling in Homs and the reported use of mortars, helicopters and tanks in Al Heffa.

“There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns,” spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

“The Joint Special Envoy demands that the parties take all steps to ensure that civilians are not harmed, and further demands that entry of the UN military observers be allowed to the town of Al Heffa immediately.”

A UN report on children in the conflict revealed kids as young as nine have been victims of killing, torture and sexual violence in the country.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s annual report names Syrian government forces and their allied “shabiha” militias for the first time on a list of 52 governments and armed groups that recruit, kill or sexually attack children in armed conflicts.

The report was completed before the Houla massacre on May 25, when 49 of the 108 victims were said to be children, some as young as two and three, who were shot in the head or had their skulls smashed with blunt instruments.

Human rights groups estimate some 1200 children have died during the 15-month uprising.

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