Syrian Druze clerics hailing from Al-Suweida province urged soldiers from their sect to defect from President Bashar al-Assad regime’s army and join the opposition, Al Arabiya reported Saturday.
The clerics’ statement, initially reported by opposition media online, called on Druze soldiers to stop defending “leaders who are killing their citizens” and to return to their home province located southeast of the capital, Damascus.
Jordan-based Rima Flaihan, opposition member from the Syrian National Coalition, told Al Arabiya that the Assad regime doesn’t represent any sect, adding that “all of Syria should be against killings of civilians.”
Late 2012, U.N. investigators warned in a report that the 23-month conflict in Syria has become openly sectarian and threatened whole communities. They said minority groups such as the Armenians, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Kurds and Turkmen had also been drawn into the conflict.
Caught up in the cycle of attacks and reprisals, they were being forced to choose sides and allow themselves to be armed by the warring parties.
President Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect and critics say the president has filled senior political and military posts with Alawites to impose his rule through sectarian loyalty. The Alawite-dominated Assad regime was also able to use the rise of Islamist terrorists as a scare tactic to bolster support coming the country’s minorities.
Sunni Muslims make up 74 percent of Syria’s 22 million population while Alawites 12 percent, Christians 10 percent and Druze 3 percent.
Meanwhile, Syrian National Coalition has renewed its calls on Saturday for western countries to start supplying arms for the Free Syrian Army against the Russian-backed Assad army.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday also called for urgent action to bring about a power transfer in Syria that excludes President Assad.
“Given the enormous price paid already by the Syrian people… it is more urgent than ever to act to overcome differences in favor of a political transition,” Le Drian told a security forum in the United Arab Emirates.
He said the change should be “a transition in which president Assad would no longer keep his place.”
Le Drian spoke of a “tragedy” and accused Assad and his family “of clinging to power by multiplying the daily massacres and atrocities.”
Syrian opposition on Friday refused to accept President Assad in any talks on ending Syria’s conflict, as part of a “framework” it has drawn up for a political solution.
China and Russia have blocked three resolutions at the U.N. Security Council that would have threatened sanctions against the Assad regime over its brutal crackdown on democracy protests that erupted in March 2011.
By Al Arabiya with Agencies
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Thursday vowed there would be no U.N. Security Council mandate for outside intervention in Syria, indicating Moscow would use its veto to block any military action, as the White House again called on other countries to halt support for the Syrian regime and to join in backing a political transition there.
“There will not be a Security Council mandate for outside intervention, I guarantee you that,” Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of a trip to Kazakhstan by President Vladimir Putin, according to AFP.
Russia and China have blocked further U.N. action against Syria over its bloody crackdown, and Assad’s military has been supplied by Moscow and Tehran.
The White House, meanwhile, condemned a reported new massacre in Syria as “outrageous targeted killings of civilians” and again called on other countries to halt support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to join in backing a political transition there.
The White House, in a statement, also described the Syrian government’s refusal to let U.N. monitors into the area as “an affront to human dignity and justice,” according to Reuters.
Opposition activists said up to 50 women and children were among at least 100 people killed in the Sunni Muslim village of Mazraat al-Kubeir near Hama on Wednesday.
“The future of Syria will be determined by the Syrian people, and the international community must come together in support of their legitimate aspirations,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said inthe statement.
China accused Western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.
Despite pursuing a sustained military crackdown on the opposition in cities across the country, President Bashar al-Assad forged ahead with plans to hold a referendum at the end of the week.
Activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, isolating neighborhoods from each other.
“Hama is cut off from the outside world. There are no landlines, no mobile phone network and no internet. House to house arrests take place daily and sometimes repeatedly in the same neighborhoods,” an opposition statement said.
United Nations (CNN) — As international anger grows over reports of mass carnage at the hands of the Syrian regime, a U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Syria failed to be adopted Saturday after veto-wielding members Russia and China voted against it.
Ambassadors from the other permanent members of the council — the United States, France, and the United Kingdom — said they were furious at Russia and China for failing to halt the worsening, bloody violence that has consumed the Middle Eastern nation.
Thirteen Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution.
Some Syrians have cried out for international action to stop attacks on civilians, more so after opposition groups said at least 321 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded after in the city of Homs in the past two days.
The opposition Syrian National Council blamed government forces for the attack in Homs, calling it one of the most “horrific massacres” since the start of the Syrian uprising. It said residential buildings and homes were “randomly and heavily bombed,” the group said.
The Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian opposition group, said 90 people had been killed in Syria on Saturday, including 61 in Homs, 10 in Idlib, and 19 in a Damascus suburb.
Some Syrian residents accused the international community of sitting idle as bodies mount in the streets.
“The U.N. isn’t doing anything about it. The Arab League isn’t doing anything about it. … While they’re having their little discussion, people are sitting here and they’re dying,” said an activist identified as Danny.
Homs resident Abu Abdo Alhomsy described continuous bombing and snipers perched throughout the city.
“There are so many people on the streets that are wounded and they need help, but we can’t reach them to help them,” he said. “They’re ready to kills us all. They have no problem with doing that. Please, we call (on) the international community for help.”
Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said his country has been “targeted by some powers seeking to punish it.”
Jaafari called the crisis “manufactured” and said there is a media campaign to make the Syrian regime look bad.
In a strongly worded statement before the vote, U.S. President Barack Obama said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy and that the international community “must work to protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality.”
He pointed the finger directly at al-Assad and what he called his “killing machine.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the vote was a lost opportunity to halt the violence. The resolution would have demanded that al-Assad stop the killing and answer international calls aimed at finding a Syrian-led solution to the crisis.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States was “disgusted” at the veto by Russia and China.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has acknowledged that “a lot still needs to be done” in China over human rights.
Mr Hu was speaking at a rare joint news conference with US President Barack Obama on the first full day of his state visit to the US.
Asked to justify China’s human rights record, Mr Hu said China had “made enormous progress recognized in the world”.
Mr Obama said he saw China’s “peaceful rise” as good for the United States.
“The US has an interest in seeing hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty,” Mr Obama said.
Earlier, the US president hailed relations with China, saying the two countries have a huge stake in each other’s success.
At a White House ceremony to greet Mr Hu, he said the US and China would be more prosperous and secure when they worked together.
Mr Hu said co-operation should be based on mutual respect, and they should respect each other’s development paths.
The two leaders’ talks at the White House tackled issues from currency and trade to defence and security.
US officials revealed that a $45bn (£28bn) export deal had been signed with China, including Beijing’s $19bn purchase of 200 Boeing aircraft.
Mr Obama said the deals would help create more than 200,000 jobs in the US.
The presidents of China and the US have pledged to boost ties between their countries, as they meet for talks in Washington.
Barack Obama, the US president, said the four-day visit by Hu Jintao, his Chinese counterpart, was laying the foundation for deeper prosperity between their two nations.
“With this visit we can lay the foundation for the next 30 years,” Obama said at a grand arrival ceremony outside the White House on Wednesday.
“We have an enormous stake in each other’s success. In an interconnected world, in a global economy, nations including our own will be more prosperous and more secure when we work together.”
Hu in return said that since Obama took office “our co-operation in various fields has produced fruitful results and our relations have achieved new progress.”
Limits on human rights
He also said co-operation between the US and China should be based on mutual respect, and that the two countries should respect each others’ interests and development paths.
Hu’s comments suggested limits to the US ability to pressure China on issues ranging from the alleged undervaluing of the Chinese currency to Beijing’s growing military power.
Obama however did stray into one of the areas of contention, urging Hu to uphold human rights in his country.
“History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld,” Obama said.
As Hu arrived, hundreds of people outside the entrance to the White House chanted: “Stop the Killing, Free Tibet.”
During Hu’s visit, the two leaders are expected to discuss issues including trade, security and Taiwan.
Washington has consistently accused Beijing of undervaluing its yuan currency to obtain a trade advantage, and many Americans are blaming China, at least in part, for the high US unemployment rate.
Scores missing after Chinese boat capsizes – CNN http://bit.ly/96tzxC
The BBC’s Michael Bristow reports on the landslide rescue effort in China
The number of people confirmed to have died after massive landslides in north-western China has risen to 1,117, with 627 others missing, officials say.
Two survivors were found on Wednesday, though hopes were fading and rescuers were turning their efforts to finding bodies and preventing disease.
Large areas in Zhouqu county, Gansu province, were enveloped by landslides triggered by rain on Saturday night.
Rain is forecast for later this week, prompting fears of further landslides.
Heavy rain was already said to be falling in Zhouqu on Wednesday and as much as 90mm (3.5in) of rain was forecast for Friday, the National Meteorological Centre reported.
It said the chance of more landslides was “relatively large”.
Disease riskSoldiers have been using explosives to blast through debris that partly dammed the Bailong river and created an unstable lake, which eventually overflowed and sent a wave of water engulfing the town of Zhouqu early on Sunday.
A 1km (0.6-mile) long drainage channel was bringing the water level down, the official Xinhua news agency quoted the vice-minister of water resources as saying.
“The danger of the barrier lake collapsing suddenly has been basically eliminated,” the vice-minister, Jiao Yong, told reporters in Beijing.
Meanwhile, specialists in epidemic prevention and medical workers have been sent to the area amid growing fears that contaminated water could spark an outbreak of disease, Xinhua reported.
Yang Long, a doctor running a makeshift clinic at a Zhouqu school, told the China Daily he had already treated several adults and children for diarrhoea.
“With heavy rain and floods every year in China, both central and local governments have emergency response plans in place”
“Unhealthy drinking water and food mainly caused the disease and we need more medicine,” he said.
Survivors foundOne of the main problems facing the government is getting all those relief materials to where they are needed, the BBC’s Michael Bristow reports from Beijing.
The affected area is mountainous and has few roads. Some were blocked by landslides, while officials said others were congested with heavy traffic.
Correspondents also say the authorities face a growing problem of where to house survivors. More than 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and another 3,000 flooded.
More than 4,000 tents have been sent to Zhouqu county but the mountainous terrain means there is little open space to set up camps.
Earlier, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had urged rescuers to hurry before the weather worsened but he acknowledged the task would be difficult.
“We must fully realise the difficulties for the search and rescue work,” he said. “You must race against the clock and spare no efforts in saving lives.”
Though hopes of finding survivors are fading, late on Wednesday one survivor was rescued nearly four days after the disaster struck, Xinhua reported.
Earlier in the day, a 50-year-old man was rescued from a flooded hotel located inside the barrier lake formed by landslide debris.
Crude pouring out after pipeline blast; at least 1 firefighter dead
Jiang He / AP
In this photo released by Greenpeace, a firefighter submerged in thick oil during an attempt to fix an underwater pump is brought ashore by his colleagues in Dalian, China on Tuesday.
BEIJING — China rushed to keep an oil spill from reaching international waters, while an environmental group tried to assess if the country’s largest reported spill was worse than has been disclosed.
Crude oil started pouring into the Yellow Sea off a busy northeastern port after a pipeline exploded late last week, sparking a massive 15-hour fire. The government says the slick has spread across a 70-square-mile stretch of ocean.
The cause of the blast was still not clear Wednesday. The pipeline is owned by China National Petroleum Corp., Asia’s biggest oil and gas producer by volume.
Jiang He / AP
Workers pull a struggling colleague to safety in the Chinese port of Dalian, Liaoning province.
Images of 100-foot-high flames shooting up near part of China’s strategic oil reserves drew the immediate attention of President Hu Jintao and other top leaders. Now the challenge is cleaning up the greasy brown plume floating off the shores of Dalian, once named China’s most livable city.
The environmental group, Greenpeace China, shot several photographs at the scene Tuesday before their team was forced to leave. They showed oil-slicked rocky beaches, a man covered in thick black sludge up to his cheekbones, and workers carrying a colleague covered in oil away from the scene.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported a 25-year-old firefighter, Zhang Liang, drowned Tuesday after a large wave pushed him into the sea amid the clean up. Another man who also fell in was rescued. It was not immediately clear if either were the ones shown in the Greenpeace photos.
Activists said it was too early to tell what impact the pollution might have on marine life.
Officials told Xinhua they did not yet know how much oil had leaked, but China Central Television reported no more pollution, including oil and firefighting chemicals, had entered the sea Tuesday. It was not clear how far the spill was from China’s closest neighbor in the region, North Korea.
Dalian’s vice mayor, Dai Yulin, told Xinhua 40 specialized oil-control boats would be on the scene along with hundreds of fishing boats. Oil-eating bacteria were also being used in the cleanup.
“Our priority is to collect the spilled oil within five days to reduce the possibility of contaminating international waters,” he said.
But an official with the State Oceanic Administration has warned the spill will be difficult to clean up even in twice that amount of time.
The Dalian port is China’s second largest for crude oil imports, and last week’s spill appears to be the country’s largest in recent memory.
“In terms of what is known to the public, this is definitely the biggest,” said Yang Ailun, spokeswoman for Greenpeace China.
“Government and business leaders have been telling the media that there’s no environmental impact. From Greenpeace’s perspective, that’s very irresponsible,” she added. “It’s too early to tell. Oil is still floating around.”
While the Chinese public has not seized on the accident as its own version of the massive BP spill in the United States, warnings over the country’s increasing dependence on oil were clear.
The International Energy Agency said Tuesday that China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest energy consumer, using the equivalent of 2.252 billion tons of oil last year. China immediately questioned the calculation.
Officials warn the air is unsafe because of chemical fumes
BEIJING — An oil pipeline at a busy Chinese port exploded, causing a massive fire that burned for 15 hours before being put out Saturday.
State-run media said the pipeline blew up Friday evening and more than 2,000 firefighters worked overnight to control flames and further blasts on a second pipeline.
China Central Television showed flames raging among tanks at the port in the northern city of Dalian, and state media described flames of about 100 feet high.
The cause of the initial blast was not clear. The Xinhua News Agency said it happened after a tanker uploaded oil at the port. It said the tanker left safely.
A spokesman with the city’s firefighting brigade said sporadic sparks could still be seen at the site Saturday morning, Xinhua reported. China National Radio said officials were considering the evacuation of about 600 homes nearby, but no-one was reported killed.
Dalian’s secretary general Xu Guochen told a news conference Saturday morning that firefighters had turned off valves on all oil tanks at the site.
Xu said the flames gave off gas containing sulfur and aromatic hydrocarbon that were not fatally toxic, Xinhua reported. Xu did not take questions.
Environmental protection officials told China National Radio that the scene remained unsafe because of chemicals in the air.
The pipelines are owned by China National Petroleum Corp., which is Asia’s biggest oil and gas producer by volume.
The state-owned company did not immediately comment. Phones at its Beijing headquarters rang unanswered, and while the company website showed updates Saturday, there was no mention of the fire.
Telephones at the offices of the Dalian city government, the city’s Communist Party propaganda department and the city firefighting team rang unanswered.