Rights body condemns Syria; Shell pulls out
BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) - The main U.N. human rights forum condemned Syria's crackdown on protests on Friday and Royal Dutch Shell shut down oil work there because of EU sanctions, signs of the deepening isolation of President Bashar al-Assad.
The 47-member rights forum overwhelmingly voted to adopt a resolution put forward by the European Union, condemning "gross and systematic" rights violations. Russia and China, which have so far protected Assad by vetoing measures at the U.N. Security Council, were among the four countries to vote against it.
The United States, which voted in favour, welcomed the result at the third emergency session held on Syria this year.
"The evidence we have seen leaves no doubt about the complicity of Syrian authorities and provides a very strong basis for accountability to go forward in other institutions where that is their mandate," U.S. ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told Reuters.
Asked whether this could mean charges in the International Criminal Court, she replied: "Absolutely, including the ICC if the Security Council chooses to refer this matter."
All five Arab members - Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia - also backed the text, a sign of isolation in the region that could hurt Assad more than pressure from the West.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement: "Those who trample over human rights in this way must reckon with ostracism and sanctions. It is high time that the U.N. Security Council sends an unambiguous signal."
But the Council cannot do so without Russia and China. Envoys from both countries took the floor to warn against external intervention.
"We would like to warn against illegal interference by outside forces even under the pretext of protecting human rights. This will have serious and unforeseen consequences," Russia's Valery Loshchinin told the Council session.
"We hear that the conflict in Syria continues to be fuelled by outside forces, armed and terrorist groups being organized and supplied with weapons and money from abroad," he said, echoing Assad's portrayal of his opponents.
U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay told the session that more than 4,000 people have been killed in the crackdown against protesters that began in March, and more than 14,000 people are believed to be in detention.
"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," Pillay said. "All acts of murder, torture and other forms of violence must be immediately stopped.
The United States, the EU, members of the Arab League and neighboring Turkey have imposed sanctions, but the West has so far shown no appetite for intervention like the air strikes on Libya that helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.
In continuing bloodshed, Syrian army defectors killed eight Air Force intelligence personnel in an attack on their base in the north of the country, according to an opposition group.
Thursday's incident suggested that armed deserters are turning increasingly from defending civilian protesters against violent repression by Assad's security forces to an offensive of ambushes and roadside bombs, raising the spectre of civil war.
On Friday, Syrian troops fired at random into an anti-Assad demonstration after Muslim prayers in the village of Kfar Laha northwest of the city of Homs, killing one man and wounding 10 people, opposition activists said.
Royal Dutch Shell said it would be shutting down in Syria to comply with EU sanctions slapped on Syria's economically vital oil and financial sectors the day before.
"Our main priority is the safety of our employees," a Shell spokesman said. "We hope the situation improves quickly for all Syrians."
The EU on Friday extended sanctions to three Syrian oil concerns, including the state-owned General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) and Syria Trading Oil (Sytrol), to crank up the financial pressure on the Assad government.
The three oil concerns were among 11 entities and 12 Syrian leadership figures added to an EU blacklist now aimed in part at bringing the Syrian ventures of oil giants to a halt. Shell was the first to bow out.
Syria's oil production - in recent years about 400,000 barrels per day - is less than 1 percent of daily world output but accounts for a big chunk of government earnings.
The expanded EU sanctions list encompasses media companies and firms the EU says supply sensitive equipment to a research centre that supports Assad's suppression of dissent.
ATTACK ON INTELLIGENCE BASE
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on Air Force intelligence occurred on Thursday in Idlib province, between the towns of Jisr al-Shughour and the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
"A clash ensued for three hours which led to the death of at least eight members of the Air Force Intelligence," it said.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said security forces "on Thursday killed 5 armed men and arrested 35 others during a clash with armed terrorist members in the Hama countryside."
It said dozens of Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, grenades and explosives were seized.
The anti-Assad Syrian Free Army has formed a military council of nine defecting officers. They issued a declaration pledging to "bring down the regime and protect citizens from the repression ... and prevent chaos as soon as the regime falls."
The main civilian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, held a first meeting with Free Army leaders in Istanbul this week. A Council spokeswoman said the Council only supports a peaceful uprising and the Free Army is not its armed wing.
Syrian armed forces defectors began organizing three months ago and now number around 10,000, say opposition sources.
They cite increased operations in the last 10 days by defectors and insurgents in the central regions Hama and Homs, Idlib on the border with Turkey, and the southern province of Deraa where armoured convoys have been attacked.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, on a visit to Ankara, praised Turkey for being "a real leader" on the Syrian crisis. "We also welcome the government's giving space in Turkey to the political opposition," he told Hurriyet newspaper.
Turkey, formerly an ally of Assad, has suspended a trade pact, halted financial credit dealings with Syria and frozen Syrian government assets.
(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Iraq, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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