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Syrians gather at the scene of an explosion outside Aleppo University, yesterday. Fifty-two people were killed and dozens injured in a blast that rocked the University, the top academic institution in northern Syria’s embattled city.
Damascuss/MOSCOW: Permanent UN Security Council member Russia said it opposed an effort by dozens of countries to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling the initiative “ill-timed and counterproductive”.
More than 50 countries asked the Security Council on Monday to refer the conflict in Syria to the court, which prosecutes people for genocide and war crimes, in a letter saying the move would “send a clear signal to the Syrian authorities”.
Russia, which like China and the United States is not an ICC member, said the referral would not help end the civil war.
“We believe this initiative is ill-timed and counterproductive to resolving the main task at this moment: an immediate end to the bloodshed in Syria,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Both Syria’s government and those fighting it have been accused of committing atrocities in the 21-month-old conflict, in which 60,000 people have been killed, but the United Nations says the government and its allies have been more culpable.
Russia has used its veto power to block three Western-backed UN Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad or pushing him from power. It says his exit must not be a precondition for a peace deal.
Syria, a major Russian weapons customer, is not a party to the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC, so the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the Security Council.
President Bashar Al Assad may defy calls to step down and stand for election in 2014, an official said, as his army pounded rebel zones with shells and air strikes, killing dozens.
In a bloody day for Syria as it marked 22 months since the eruption of an anti-regime revolt that has morphed into a fullscale civil war, a bomb rocked Aleppo University in the country’s north killing at least 52 people, while 45 others died in shellings and air raids elsewhere, a watchdog said.
The latest violence came a day after a senior official said Assad should be allowed to run for election in 2014. “We are opening the way for democracy, or deeper democracy. In a democracy you don’t tell somebody not to run,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad in an interview with the BBC on Monday.
He repeated the Syrian regime’s insistence that calls for Assad to step down immediately are foreign-backed and illegitimate.
“It is a coup d’etat if we listen to what those armed groups and those elements of Syria are proposing,” said Muqdad.
“The president now and many other candidates who may run (in the 2014 elections) will go to the people, put their programmes and be elected by the people,” Muqdad told the BBC. Muqdad’s remarks come after Assad unveiled in a rare speech on January 5 in Damascus his own three-step peace initiative for the strife-torn country.
He offered dialogue with the opposition to end the conflict - but only with elements he deemed acceptable, not rebel-affiliated groups he termed “killers” and “terrorists” manipulated by foreign powers.
His plan was rejected outright by the entire opposition as well as by the West, and it was criticised heavily by UN-Arab League peace envoy Brahimi who termed it “one-sided”.
The conflict began on March 15, 2011, with peaceful protests that erupted into deadly violence in the wake of a harsh regime crackdown. Contradictory reports meanwhile emerged on the origin of yesterday’s blast in Aleppo University, which struck the campus on the first day of exams.
“The explosion caused casualties among both students on their first day of exams, and people displaced from areas of the city damaged by terrorist attacks and who have sought refuge in the university complex,” said the official Sana news agency.
State television blamed “terrorists”, without specifying the nature of the explosion, while anti-regime activists said it was the caused by an air strike.
A military official in Aleppo said the explosion occurred after rebels tried to shoot down a warplane with a missile, but failed to hit their target.
Other sources said a car bomb attack was behind the blast.
Elsewhere in Syria, an artillery attack on the town of Houla in the central province of Homs killed 12 people, including seven minors, the Observatory said.
In Homs city, warplanes struck the besieged districts of Jobar and Sultaniyeh, while in the northern province of Aleppo, an air raid in on the rebel-held town of Al Bab killed at least eight people, including three women and two children.
A fire broke out at a tent camp for Syrian refugees in southeastern Turkey yesterday, killing a pregnant Syrian woman and three of her children, Turkish officials said.
The fire was started by an electric heater in the family’s tent at a refugee camp in Ceylanpinar in Sanliurfa province near the border with Syria, the officials said. They said the fire had been extinguished.
The Ceylanpinar camp is one of some 15 camps in Turkey and is one of the largest, with more than 28,000 inhabitants.
More than 150,000 registered Syrian refugees are now living in camps in Turkey, with tens of thousands more living in towns and cities throughout the country.
Two people were killed and at least six were injured last July when a fire broke out at a refugee camp in Yayladagi in Hatay province further to the west.
The refugees are fleeing fighting between Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s forces and rebel fighters trying to overthrow his government.