U.N. war crimes panel seeks access to Syria
BEIRUT -– A United Nations-backed panel investigating alleged war crimes in Syria says it has asked to meet with President Bashar Assad soon in order for its team to gain access inside the country.
Members of the panel are seeking the meeting with Assad "without any conditions," said Brazilian diplomat Sergio Pinheiro, who is heading the panel, according to the Associated Press.
The four-member panel, which includes former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, has been asked to continue its investigation until at least March. Del Ponte said the probe is looking into suspected "crimes against humanity and war crimes" during Syria's increasingly bloody conflict, which has left more than 30,000 dead, the AP reported.
The request from the panel comes a day after U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the Syrian government and some rebel forces had agreed to a cease-fire for the Eid Al-Adha holiday, which begins on Friday. The U.N. Security Council unanimously backed the proposed temporary truce.
"We hope to build on it and aim for a lasting and solid cease-fire," Brahimi said.
But amid already existing doubts over the likelihood of the cease-fire going into effect, the government and rebel groups further put the possible truce into question Wednesday. Syria's Foreign Ministry said military commanders were still studying the proposal, and the Free Syrian Army's fragmented armed groups have expressed different positions on the cease-fire.
"We will observe it as long as the regime does," said Col. Qassim Saad Eddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, adding, "we don't expect them to observe it for even one minute."
-- Times staff
Photo: Sergio Pinheiro, chairman of the commission looking into war crimes in Syria, and commission member Carla del Ponte hold a news conference Thursday at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. Credit: Martial Trezzini / Keystone