Syrian forces pound rebel strongholds, kill 97

Syrian forces pound rebel strongholds, kill 97

Syrian forces on Tuesday killed 97 people in shelling attacks on rebel strongholds, activists said, as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton piled pressure on Damascus by likening President Bashar al-Assad to a war criminal, dpa reported.

In France, the country's foreign minister said the United Nations Security Council was preparing a new resolution demanding a ceasefire to allow in humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists said they had managed to smuggle two wounded Western journalists from the besieged city of Homs into neighbouring Lebanon. British photojournalist Paul Conroy, 47, arrived safely in Beirut while French journalist Edith Bouvier was still believed to be near the Lebanon-Syria border.

"The French lady is in a fairly safe place and she will soon be reunited with her family," activist Abu Raad told dpa.

In another day of violence, Syrian forces pounded the rebel-held districts of Baba Amr, al-Hamdiyeh, al-Khalidiyeh and Karam al-Zeitoun in Homs, killing at least 65 people there, activists said.

In the central province of Hama, security forces killed a further 32 people in the village of Helfaya, activists said.

"Scores of people were also wounded in Helfaya, some are in a critical condition," activist Mohamed Hamawi said by phone from the province.

Fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army in the northern city of Idlib near the border with Turkey killed three loyalist soldiers in clashes, activists said.

Syrian activist Omar Homsi also said that the corpses of 64 men were found near an army checkpoint near Homs. He said the group had escaped Baba Amr at the weekend.

"They were men whose ages vary between 25 to 40; their families are still missing," he said.

Activists also said they feared a ground invasion of Homs after the arrival of units from an elite armoured division led by President al-Assad's brother Maher.

In New York, the United Nations put the death toll since the uprising against al-Assad erupted in March at "well over 7,500."

"Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a US Senate hearing, stopping short, however, of calling for formally charging the Syrian leader with war crimes.

Western powers are trying to increase pressure on Syria to end the violence and allow humanitarian aid into the worst-hit areas.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the United Nations Security Council was discussing a new resolution to demand an end to the bloodshed and access to humanitarian aid.

"A resolution for a humanitarian ceasefire and access to humanitarian aid in the most threatened areas is being discussed at the Security Council," Juppe told RTL radio.

"We hope that, on this resolution, China and Russia don't use their veto," he added, referring to Syria's key allies who earlier this month vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed Security Council Resolution calling on al-Assad to stop the violence and step down.

The Syrian opposition and Western powers have said that veto had provided al-Assad with a diplomatic cover to pursue his deadly crackdown.

Pressure on Syria also mounted at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where a majority of countries was set to decry possible "crimes against humanity" by the Syrian regime in a new resolution likely to be voted on Thursday.

The draft resolution urges "to hold to account those responsible for human rights violations, including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity," a reference to possible future indictment against Syrian leader by the International Criminal Court.

Syrian ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui stormed out of the conference room in protest. "If the session of today aims at guaranteeing humanitarian assistance, the Human Rights Council is not the appropriate forum," he said.

The previous three resolutions by the 47-country council were opposed by Russia and China, who do not hold veto powers there, as well as Ecuador and Cuba.

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Uzbekistan Railways plans to resume railway communication with Russia and Kazakhstan
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Uzbekistan suspends flights to Turkey and India
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