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Dec. 30, 2012 at 10:23 AM   |   Comments

Atrocities alleged after Syria battle

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Syrian government troops reportedly pushed rebels out of a district in the key city of Homs and then exacted a heavy toll from civilian residents, rebels said.

As many as 200 civilians were reportedly massacred in Deir Baalbeh in the aftermath of a battle that lasted several days and some reports indicated the toll could be higher, the BBC said.

"It smells awful because the regime appears to have burnt so many bodies recently," an opposition activist in Homs told CNN Sunday. "Some cars arrived this morning and carried away dead bodies. We are not sure where."

Homs has been on the front lines for much of the bloody rebellion that has gripped Syria for nearly two years. The claims of the alleged atrocities, which were based on reports from a captured Syrian soldier, could not be independently verified since foreign journalists are barred from the country.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting nationwide continued this weekend with the government seemingly stepping up its pressure in the suburbs of the capital Damascus.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a negotiated settlement may have improved. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, met this weekend to discuss a plan for elections and possible government transition.

CNN said Russia has been a staunch supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, but Moscow has seen the conflict evolving into a more sectarian conflict with various groups jockeying for power.

"The Syrians disagree violently. On one side, the government says we are doing our duty to protect our people from ... terrorists. On the other side, they say the government is illegitimate," Brahimi said. "They are not talking about the same problem. They are talking about two different problems."


Envoy Brahimi in Cairo to discuss Syria

CAIRO, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria arrived in Cairo Sunday after warning the conflict could lead to regional chaos, officials said.

Brahimi warned if the conflict in Syria continues an estimated some 100,000 people will be killed, Israel Radio said.

After meeting with Nabil al-Araby, the Arab League secretary-general, Brahimi told reporters an estimated two million Syrians are homeless and considered refugees. He added than more than 100,000 Syrians including women and children, are in urgent need of food and heating.

On Saturday, Brahimi met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the situation in Syria which has claimed 45,000 lives since violence erupted in March 2011.

After meeting with Lavrov, Brahimi warned the only alternative to the situation is either "hell" or to continue with negotiations and find a diplomatic solution, media reports said. He warned failure to solve the situation would lead to Syria being overrun by violence like Somalia, The New York Times said. "The problem could grow to such proportions that it could have a substantial effect on our future, we cannot ignore this," The Times quoted him saying.

Lavrov said Russia "isn't in the business of regime change," and said Assad "has repeatedly said both publicly and privately, including during his meetings with Lakhdar Brahimi not long ago, that he has no plans to go anywhere, that he will stay in his post until the end ... there is no possibility of changing this position," The Washington Post reported.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile said his country has received "strong signals" that the crisis in Syria is coming to an end, the Turkish daily Hurriyet Daily News said.


Former Israeli FM Lieberman indicted

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Two weeks after resigning as Israel's foreign minister, a Jerusalem court Sunday indicted Avigdor Lieberman for fraud and breach of trust.

On Thursday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein presented the Knesset with an updated version of the indictment and the former minister was indicted at Jerusalem's Magistrates Court, The Jerusalem Post said.

The main change in the indictment refers to his alleged involvement in helping Ze'ev Ben-Aryeh, a former ambassador to Belarus to be appointed ambassador to Latvia, the Post said. It also claimed Ben-Aryeh illegally leaked to Lieberman information concerning a criminal investigation against him, the newspaper said.

The charges come less than a month before Israel's general elections and after Lieberman merged his Yisrael Beitenu party with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party to form the joint Likud-Beitenu list.

Two weeks ago Lieberman stepped down as foreign minister and waived his parliamentary immunity, the Post said.


Obama sends 50 troops to Chad

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- President Obama informed Congress Saturday he sent about 50 U.S. troops to Chad to protect Americans being evacuated from neighboring Central African Republic.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., president pro tempore of the Senate, Obama said U.S. Embassy personnel and several private U.S. citizens were evacuated from Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday because the deteriorating security condition in the country posed a potential threat to them.

The president said in conjunction with the evacuation, he ordered the approximately 50 troops to Chad.

"Although equipped for combat, this stand-by security force was deployed solely for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, until the U.S. Embassy personnel and private U.S. citizens have been safely evacuated from the Central African Republic," Obama said.

"This action has been directed consistent with my responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as commander in chief and chief executive."

Obama went on to say the letter was part of his efforts to keep Congress "fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution" and that he "appreciate[s] the support of the Congress in this action."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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