Nine family members killed by Syrian mortar fire

Chief UN observer says ceasefire being violated by both sides, calls level of violence ‘appalling’

Syrian forces armed with machine guns push back protesters in Damascus on Sunday (photo credit: AP)
Syrian forces armed with machine guns push back protesters in Damascus on Sunday (photo credit: AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces have fired mortar shells into a farming village, killing 10 people, among them two young children, and sending panicked residents running for cover, activists said on Wednesday.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous deplored the ongoing violence and promised to put 300 observers in Syria by the end of the month, up from the 24 in place now, in hopes of calming the situation.

“The level of violence in Syria has been appalling,” Ladsous said.

Tuesday’s attack on the village of Mishmeshan near the Turkish border highlighted the vulnerability of Syrian civilians, especially children.

Nine of the dead in the village attacked were from one extended family, and many of a dozen wounded were children, activists said.

Five mortar shells hit the village at around 1 a.m. Tuesday, and after daybreak, survivors wrapped some of the dead in blankets and placed them in the backs of three white pickup trucks. Amateur video showed hundreds of mourners lining a street next to the parked trucks and praying over the bodies ahead of the burial.

A senior UN official, Radhika Coomaraswamy, expressed alarm over “yet another wave of extreme violence killing and injuring children across Syria,” referring to the mortar attack and other recent violence.

“I urge all parties in Syria to refrain from indiscriminate tactics resulting in the killing and wounding of children,” said Coomaraswamy, who deals with children in war zones. She said more than 34 children were allegedly killed since an April 12 truce deadline.

In amateur video from Mishmeshan, a bearded man is seen storming a clinic. Counting on his fingers, he says the attack killed his mother, sister, two of his brothers and a nephew.

“That’s my son!” he says, pointing to a wounded boy with white bandages on his legs, arms and back. “That’s my brother and that’s my nephew!” he says, pointing to a body on the floor in a pool of blood and another on a gurney. The wounded boy, who a narrator says is five, lies on his stomach and appears very frightened by the mayhem around him.

Another video shows a preteen girl whimpering when a medic tries to clean blood from wounds on her face and arm.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted more than 13 months ago. What began with largely peaceful marches gradually turned into an insurgency in response to a brutal government crackdown.

The funeral of a man killed in Damascus on Sunday (photo credit: AP)
The funeral of a man killed in Damascus on Sunday (photo credit: AP)

A cease-fire brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan was meant to end fighting by April 12. While the level of violence has decreased since then, Syrian forces continue attacking rebellious areas instead of withdrawing to their barracks, as required under the truce deal. Rebel fighters also kept up shooting attacks and roadside ambushes targeting troops.

In New York, the UN peacekeeping chief Ladsous said the observers already deployed in Syria are reporting cease-fire violations from the government and opposition.

He refused to say which side was responsible for the most violations. But he said the observers have seen heavy weapons of the Syrian military deployed in populated areas, including armored personnel carriers and Howitzers.

The UN has commitments for about 150 observers from member states, with new pledges coming in daily, said Ladsous, adding that he expects 300 observers on the ground by the end of May.

However, the Syrian government has denied visas to three observers and still opposes a UN request to let observers fly in their own helicopters, he said. Syria is slightly larger than North Dakota, and having air transport would make the mission more effective.

The observers’ presence has tempered violence in some areas while the regime has launched attacks on other districts that have welcomed the team with anti-government rallies.

In all, 15 Syrian civilians were killed on Tuesday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group.

The 10 killed in Mishmeshan included a 5-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy, four women and a man who died of his injuries as rescuers tried to take him to Turkey for treatment, said the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman. A village resident told Abdul-Rahman that five mortar shells hit the village, and that panicked residents tried to run for cover after the first shells hit. Abdul-Rahman said he was told that many of the 12 wounded were children. Three people with serious injuries were taken to Turkey, but one died on the way, he said.

The Observatory also said a 13-year-old was killed in the nearby town of Maaret al-Noman by random gunfire from regime forces.

“He was in his house when a bullet came in and hit him in the neck,” area activist Fadi al-Yassin said via Skype.

Activist claims and videos could not be independently verified. The Syrian government rarely comments on specific events in the country and bars most media from independent reporting — despite agreeing to do so in accepting Annan’s plan.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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