Syria: more UN assembly speeches, one less UNESCO site

Fierce fighting in Aleppo left a UNESCO World Heritage Site in tatters as world leaders left the UN General Assembly meeting no closer to a resolution for the 19-month conflict. 

Courtesy of Shaam News Network/Reuters
A resident looks at his house damaged by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the outskirts of Taftanaz village, east of Idlib city September 30.

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Heavy shelling rocked Damascus and other towns today, just a day after the closing of the week-long United Nations General Assembly meeting, where world leaders spent countless hours calling for an end to the deadly Syrian crisis and Syria’s foreign minister accused members of trying to impose colonial policies on his country.

Anti-government activists reported shelling in Daraa, Idlib, and the Damascus suburb of Douma today, and at least 17 people were killed this morning as a result of the violence, according to the opposition's Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Fierce fighting in Aleppo, which began in the city's Souk al-Medina over the weekend and continued into yesterday, left the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, smoldering. 

At the close of the General Assembly yesterday, no diplomatic resolution was reached on Syria, despite more than seven days of speeches where “Syria was discussed by one country after another,” reports the Associated Press.

From Albania, whose diplomats said Syrians “are suffering a primitive bloodshed by a regime that has irreversibly lost its legitimacy to lead,” to Zambia, whose diplomats said, “Humanity has again been embarrassed by this unnecessary carnage,” there were few speeches that didn’t include some criticism of the conflict, which has now entered its 19th month and killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people, according to the UN and activists.

But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem countered the many calls to end Syria’s civil war in a speech in front of the General Assembly yesterday, where he accused “some well-known countries” of pursuing “new colonial policies based on political hypocrisy,” and supporting terrorism in Syria, according to Syria's state-run Day Press News. The Syrian government often refers to rebel fighters in the country as terrorists. Mr. Moallem continued:

Perhaps, worse of all, is to see permanent members of the Security Council, who launched wars under the pretext of combating terrorism, now support terrorism in my country....

For more than one year now, my country has been facing organized terrorism, that affected our citizens, our human and scientific resources, national establishments, and also much of Syria's historic and archeological landmarks through terrorist bombings, assassinations and massacres, looting and sabotage activities that horrified citizens in many parts of Syria. 

Moallem said calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down were "blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Syria, and the unity of its people and its sovereignty," though he did call for dialogue with the rebels, which was derided by George Sabra, an opposition spokesman for the opposition umbrella organization, the Syrian National Council.

"From day one, the regime played the same tune, call[ing] for political solution while ordering mass killing all across the homeland. They keep putting themselves in a political corner ... while their military keeps its systematic killing spree, murdering hundreds of innocent men and women every single day," Mr. Sabra told CNN.

Following sideline talks with Moallem yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “stressed that it was the Syrian people who were being killed every day, and appealed to the government of Syria to show compassion to its own people,” according to the UN press office.

In one of the more shocking claims, Moallem also noted that refugees fleeing Syria had been duped by neighboring countries that were trying to create an artificial crisis in order to receive international aid.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to neighboring countries to escape violence since the conflict broke out. With fighting showing no sign of abating, thousands of Syrian refugees are stuck along the Turkish border in poor conditions, waiting to enter overcrowded camps in Turkey, reports CNN. In Jordan, where the government is struggling to cope with the 100,000 Syrian refugees who have already arrived, most locals oppose allowing more into the country, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The UN refugee agency has warned that the outflow of Syrians to neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon, is a major humanitarian problem that could destabilize the region.

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