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Air Strike Kills At Least 20 In Northern Syria; Blast Rocks Damascus

August 15, 2012

The Syrian opposition says at least 20 people have been killed in a government air strike on a rebel bastion in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strike hit Azaz, a rebel-held northern border town near the main northern city of Aleppo.

The incident comes after Syrian forces clashed with rebels in Damascus on August 15, after a huge explosion rocked the capital.

Activists said the fighting erupted when rebels attacked government checkpoints in the western district of Mezze, near government buildings and the Iranian Embassy.

Earlier, a huge explosion occurred close to a military building and a hotel used by UN monitors.

State television said the blast was caused by a bomb and that three people were wounded. UN sources could not be reached for confirmation. The broadcaster aired footage of charred cars and a damaged fuel truck.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mokdad said that UN observers were unhurt in the explosion.

The Opposition Local Coordination Committees said a blast occurred near a military compound in Ummayed Square in Damascus. According to the Dubai-based broadcaster Al Arabiyah and the French news agency AFP, the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

UN: War Crimes Being Committed

Meanwhile, UN human rights investigators say Syrian government forces and their allied Shabbiha militia have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in what appears to be a state-directed policy.

The report says Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime have also committed war crimes but these "did not reach the gravity, frequency, and scale" of those carried out by security forces.

The panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council blamed security forces for the killing of more than 100 civilians in the village of Houla in May, nearly half of them children.

The report says the panel had "reasonable grounds" to believe that security forces were also responsible for other "gross violations of international human rights law," including murder, torture, arbitrary arrest, unlawful killing, and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

OIC To Kick Out Syria

In Mecca on August 15, an emergency summit of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation is poised to suspend Syria from the group. Iran strongly opposes the move.

The symbolic gesture is expected to pile pressure on Damascus over its deadly crackdown on a 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

A draft final statement obtained by AFP said the summit "approves the suspension of Syria's membership." It is expected to be endorsed when the leaders reconvene later on August 15.

On August 14, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accused Iran of playing a greater role in the Syrian conflict, including efforts to train a militia to fight alongside Assad's forces.

"We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern to us, that that's taking place," Panetta said. "We do not think that Iran ought to be playing that role at this moment in time, that it's dangerous, that it's adding to the killing that's going on in Syria, and that it tries to bolster a regime that we think, ultimately, is going to come down. But all it's going to wind up doing, frankly, is to prolong the misery of the Syrian people."

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, told reporters the militia is being used to take pressure off Syrian regime forces.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP

Source: in-damascus-/24677399.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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