UN Chief 'Firmly Condemns' Syria Violence Escalation
by VOA News December 17, 2012
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the escalation of violence in Syria, saying reports of government warplanes bombing a Palestinian refugee camp are of 'grave concern.'
Opposition activists said the bombing Sunday on the Yarmouk camp killed at least eight people, and that the air strike was the first of its kind on the camp since President Bashar al-Assad began suppressing a popular uprising in March 2011.
Ban said in a statement late Sunday that bombing raids by fixed-wing military aircraft and attack helicopters against populated areas 'have been amply documented.' He expressed particular condemnation for attacks against civilians and the shelling of population centers.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Yarmouk raid was one of six government air strikes on southern areas of Damascus on Sunday. Rebels have been trying to advance from those areas into central Damascus, the seat of Assad's power.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese newspaper quoted Syria's vice president as saying neither the rebels nor the government can win the conflict militarily. In a report Sunday, Al-Akhbar said Farouk al-Sharaa made the rare public comment in an interview with the pro-Syrian newspaper. There was no immediate response to the report from the Syrian government.
If confirmed, Sharaa's comment would represent a departure from the Syrian government's stated determination to defeat what it sees as foreign-backed terrorists trying to end Assad's 12-year rule.
The paper quoted the vice president as saying the government is 'not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime.'
In another quote, Sharaa purportedly said a solution to the conflict must involve 'regional countries' and members of the U.N. Security Council, the stopping of all violence, and the creation of a 'national unity government with wide powers.'
Elsewhere, an Islamist rebel faction claimed to have seized an army academy near the northern city of Aleppo after days of fighting with government troops. The Tawheed brigade posted a video on its website Sunday, showing fighters walking around the base, while exchanges of fire could be heard in the background.
The army academy appears to be the latest Syrian military installation to fall to the rebels this month around Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital.
At the Yarmouk camp, the Observatory said fighting erupted after the air strike, with Syrian rebels and their Palestinian allies battling a Palestinian faction loyal to Assad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). Syria is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendents, whose loyalties have been divided by the Syrian civil war.
The government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the international community to take action to stop attacks on Palestinians in Syria.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties at Yarmouk or the fighting at the military academy because Syria bars independent journalists from reporting freely.
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