Syrian turmoil hits Iranian technicians

Syrian turmoil hits Iranian technicians

Iran said yesterday five of its technicians had been kidnapped in the Syrian city of Homs, Mehr news agency reported, as Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad’s implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said, and France branded the killings an “unprecedented massacre.”

“The five were kidnapped on Wednesday in the morning while heading to their work place ... We demand their immediate release,” Mehr quoted a statement issued by the Iranian embassy in Damascus as saying. Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that eight engineers “of different nationalities” had disappeared after heading by bus to their work at a power plant in Homs province. Asked about the incident, the Syrian foreign ministry would say only that “an investigation is under way.”

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed in addition to over 100 casualties among army deserters in Idlib province, turning Dec. 20 into the “bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution”.

“There was a massacre of an unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.” The main opposition Syrian National Council demanded international action to protect civilians.

The escalating death toll in nine months of popular unrest has raised the spectre of civil war in Syria with Assad still trying to stamp out protests with troops and tanks despite international sanctions imposed to push him onto a reform path. Idlib, a northwestern province bordering Turkey, has been a hotbed of protest during the revolt, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year, and has also seen escalating attacks by armed insurgents against his forces.

The Observatory said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles in Idlib since Dec. 18 and killed 14 members of the security forces on Dec. 20 in an ambush in the southern province of Deraa, where anti-Assad protests began in March.

The main opposition Syrian National Council said 250 people had been killed Dec. 19-20, and that the Arab League and United Nations must protect civilians. It demanded “an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the (Assad) regime’s crackdown in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs, in particular” and called for “safe zones” to be set up under international protection. It also said those regions should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid.  Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said Dec. 20 that an advance observer team would go to Syria today to prepare the way for 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.