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Syria storms out of U.N. rights meeting

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 28 Feb 2012 14:47 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Syria's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva stormed out of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday after angrily demanding that countries stop "inciting sectarianism and providing arms" to opposition forces in the country.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said sanctions were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel and then abruptly left the Geneva forum's emergency debate called at the request of Gulf countries and Turkey, and backed by the West.

"We reaffirm to all those alleged friends of the Syrian people that the simple step to immediately help the Syrian people is to stop inciting sectarianism, providing arms and weapons and funding and putting the Syrian people one against the other," he said.

"Unjust and unilateral sanctions imposed by some countries on the Syrian people are preventing access to medicines, to fuel in all forms as well as electricity, and are also impeding bank transfers to buy these materials," he said.

The European Union imposed sanctions on seven Syrian cabinet ministers on Tuesday for their role in a bloody crackdown on dissent, the latest move aimed at forcing President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The United Nations' main human rights body was set to condemn Syria on Tuesday for using heavy weapons on residential areas and persecuting opponents, its fourth rebuke to Assad in an 11-month uprising.

Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov took the floor to say that only the Syrian people could decide their country's political future.

"The important thing today is that we give a chance to the Syrians themselves to overcome this crisis," he said.

"Today it is clear aims to instil democracy through force are doomed to disaster and achieve the opposite. What is important today is that we do not allow for a full scale civil war in Syria," he said.

Esther Brimmer, U.S. assistant secretary of state said that "Assad and his criminal cohort are waging a brutal campaign of slaughter, bombardment, torture and arrest that has already murdered thousands of women, men and children."

"Bashar al-Assad must go, and there must be a Syrian-led democratic political transition that meets the long-suppressed aspirations of the Syrian people," she said.

"DETERIORATING SITUATION"

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was appalled at the rapidly deteriorating rights and humanitarian situation in Syria and shelling of Homs.

Hospitals are overwhelmed and makeshift clinics have been set up in hard-hit areas to treat the wounded, she said.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, reiterated that Syria should be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The urgent debate came at the request of Turkey and three Gulf countries, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with backing from the United States and European Union.

The 47-member forum, which has moral authority but no legal force, looked set to adopt a resolution condemning Syria's "continued widespread and systematic violations", diplomats said.

Drafted by the Arab countries and Turkey, the resolution condemns "the use of heavy artillery and tanks to attack residential areas ... that have led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians".

It also voices alarm at the humanitarian crisis in areas lacking food, medicine and fuel and calls for aid agencies to be allowed to deliver vital supplies to civilians in heavily hit areas, especially Homs, Deraa and Zabadani.

"There will be a wide majority of states in favour. It will pass easily," an Arab diplomat told Reuters before the meeting.

"We should expect Russia, Cuba and Ecuador to vote against it. On China, is not clear," he said.

Assad sent units of an elite armoured division into Homs on Tuesday as rebel-held districts came under the heaviest bombardment of a three-week offensive, opposition sources in the city said.

The Council opened its annual four-week session on Monday, days after U.N. investigators accused the highest levels of the Syrian government and army of ordering crimes against humanity including murder, rape and torture. (Additional reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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