BEIRUT (Reuters) - Rebel forces ambushed an army vehicle in northern Syria on Tuesday, killing three soldiers and capturing two others, Syrian human rights observers said.
Syria’s northern neighbour Turkey said it feared there could be an exodus of Syrians if the violence got worse, and that border states might have to create a buffer zone. Russia in contrast warned major powers against interference.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces mounting economic sanctions over what a U.N. report said on Monday was systematic murder, torture and rape ordered from the top.
But he shows no sign of buckling under pressure to end his crackdown on protesters or in the face of armed rebellion by military deserters.
“The security forces vehicle was targeted while driving in the city of Saraqeb in Idlib province by a group of suspected army defectors,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
Government forces later killed a civilian and wounded three others in raids in Saraqeb, it said. In a district of Homs city, an 8-year-old girl was shot dead at a checkpoint.
Two civilians died of their wounds in the area of Rinkous outside Damascus on Tuesday and a 33-year-old man was killed by sniper fire as he tried to escape arrest, it said.
The Observatory said families in the area had been unable to bury seven people killed there since Sunday.
The United Nations report on Monday accused Syria of crimes against humanity in the 8-month-old repression of a revolt in which the UN says at least 3,500 have been killed.
The United States, the European Union and the Arab League have stacked up a range of economic sanctions against Damascus while ruling out military intervention.
Syria, diplomats say, is not like Libya, where NATO air power paved the way for a successful revolution against the Gaddafi dictatorship. It is more ethnically diverse and has far more people. Assad still has strategic allies and strong support at home and the rebels hold no territory.
Turkey said it must prepare for “any scenario.”
“If tens, hundreds of thousands of people start advancing towards the Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey borders, not only Turkey but the international community may be required to take some steps such as a buffer zone,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview.
“We don’t want that to happen but we must consider and work on that scenario,” he said.
France has raised the idea of a secured humanitarian corridor, a step which would appear to imply some use of armed forces for security and logistics, if camps were set up on Syria’s border to accommodate masses of refugees.
“If the oppression continues, Turkey is ready for any scenario. We hope that a military intervention will never be necessary,” Davutoglu said. “The Syrian regime has to find a way of making peace with its own people.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said other states should “stop issuing ultimatums” to Assad and drop talk of an arms embargo which he said would favour the rebels.
“We know how that worked in Libya when the arms embargo only applied to the Libyan army, the opposition received weapons, and countries like France and Qatar publicly spoke about it without shame,” Lavrov said.
“For the most part, armed groups are provoking the authorities. To expect the authorities to close their eyes to this is not right,” said Moscow’s veteran top diplomat.
Syria is a major weapons client of Moscow as well as a longtime strategic ally dating back to Soviet times. It also has close ties with Iran.
The Arab League imposed financial sanctions on Syria on Sunday and the EU weighed in on Monday, further tightening the financial screws on Damascus for what Brussels said was its “brutality and unwillingness to change course.”
Assad’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem hit back, lambasting the Arab League for “a declaration of economic war” that he said had closed the door to resolving the crisis.
“Sanctions are a two-way street,” Moualem told a televised news conference. “I am not warning here, but we will defend the interests of our people.”
The sanctions stop short of a full trade embargo.
But Turkey said it was preparing to cut out Syria as a transit route for Middle East trade if the situation deteriorates, and create a detour around the large Arab country.
“We plan to conduct transit shipments through new border gates in Iraq if the conditions in Syria worsen,” Transport Minister Binali Yildirim was quoted as saying.
Turkey has an 800-km (500-mile) border with Syria. It has said it will selectively impose sanctions announced by the Arab League to avoid harming the Syrian people.
Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, David Brunnstrom and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Andrew Roche