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Syria forces ‘kill 9 deserters’ as NATO rejects action | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Damascus, (AFP)- Syrian forces ambushed and killed nine army deserters in a north Damascus suburb on Monday, a human rights watchdog said, as NATO ruled out military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The bloodletting also appeared to spill over into neighbouring Lebanon where two people were killed overnight in street battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Beirut, a security official said.

The latest violence in Syria comes after a rocket-propelled grenade exploded on Sunday near a team of UN observers in a Damascus suburb, and at least 48 people were killed elsewhere in the country.

The nine army deserters were killed as they were retreating under cover of darkness from the village of Jisr al-Ab near Damascus’s Douma suburb, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The watchdog on Sunday had reported fighting between rebels and regime troops near Douma, during which the RPG exploded near the team of UN observers.

No one was hurt in Douma blast, which came as UN truce mission head Major General Robert Mood and peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous were leading observers around the north Damascus suburb.

Heavy fighting was also reported overnight between regime soldiers and rebels in other parts of Damascus province, the Observatory said.

The violence raged despite an April 12 truce brokered by international peace envoy Kofi Annan that is being overseen by a team of UN military observers.

NATO, which undertook a major air war in Libya to back rebels who fought Moamer Kadhafi’s forces last year, said it has “no intention” of taking military action against Assad’s regime.

“We strongly condemn the behavioUr of the Syrian security forces and their crackdowns on the Syrian population,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a Chicago summit on Sunday.

“But again NATO has no intention to intervene in Syria.”

NATO governments have come under criticism for backing the air war in Libya but ruling out military intervention in Syria, where opposition demonstrators and badly outgunned rebels have been hammered by heavily-armed regime forces.

After Sunday’s Douma blast, Ladsous said: “I think this is clearly one of these situations where it is absolutely imperative that all parties exercise restraint and do not engage in any more fighting.”

The AFP correspondent said the streets of Douma were deserted and most of its shops were closed.

“When the observers leave, the armed men will come back to cause trouble,” a soldier told reporters, in a reference to rebels.

Ladsous also reported meeting Foreign Minister Walid Muallem earlier on Sunday to discuss the observers’ mission.

“There are still some aspects that need to be discussed regarding the function of the mission,” said Ladsous, adding “there were still more aspects that needed to be looked at and worked out cooperatively.”

State-run SANA news agency said Muallem informed Ladsous that armed rebels had violated the UN-backed ceasefire hundreds of times.

“The armed opposition has carried out 3,500 violations since the ceasefire was established,” Muallem’s spokesman Jihad Makdisi was quoted as saying.

Sunday’s blast followed several other close calls for the UN monitors since they deployed in Syria, where 260 observers are now on the ground according to Mood.

On May 16, a convoy of UN observers was struck by a homemade bomb in the flashpoint central city of Homs, damaging three vehicles but causing no casualties.

A similar convoy was hit by a roadside bomb on May 9 in the southern province of Daraa, wounding six Syrian soldiers escorting them.

Sunday saw a bloodbath in other parts of Syria too, with at least 48 people reported killed, including 34 civilians slain in the village of Souran in the central province of Hama, the Observatory said.

The violence appeared to spill over into Beirut, with overnight street battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups.

“During the night, groups of young men cut off the road in the Tareek el-Jdideh district and street battles followed,” a security official said, requesting anonymity.

“Two people were killed and 18 were wounded,” he said, adding that machineguns had been fired and that the fighting had raged until about 3:00 am (2400 GMT).

The fighting erupted after reports emerged that army troops had shot dead an anti-Syria Sunni cleric when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon on Sunday.

The cleric’s killing followed a week of intermittent clashes that left 10 people dead in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli between Sunnis hostile to the Syrian regime and Alawites who support Assad.