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Petition seeking war crimes investigation angers Syria

BEIRUT — The Syrian government reacted with outrage Saturday to a petition from 58 countries asking that it be investigated for war crimes, even as reports of new atrocities surfaced a day after the United Nations’ top human rights official called forcefully for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

“The Syrian government regrets the persistence of these countries in following the wrong approach and refusing to recognize the duty of the Syrian state to protect its people from terrorism imposed from abroad,’’ the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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The Syrian government uses the word terrorists as a blanket term for its opponents, many of whom took up arms after the government fired on demonstrators early in 2011. Some rebel groups have increasingly used tactics such as car bombs and other weapons that kill indiscriminately.

Yet opposition supporters say the government has committed the majority of wanton attacks on civilians, using airstrikes and artillery barrages on residential neighborhoods.

The BBC reported Friday that it had found evidence of a massacre that government opponents said was carried out on Tuesday in Al Haswiya, a working-class suburb of Homs in northern Syria.

The BBC reported that visibly shocked villagers said at least 100 people, almost all of them Sunni Muslims, had been killed. Soldiers escorting the BBC journalists blamed the extremist group Jabhet al-Nusra for the killings, while out of earshot of the soldiers, villagers blamed the army and said some soldiers had apologized for the killings.

On Friday, UNICEF’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, Maria Calivis, condemned what she called ‘‘the terrible price children are paying’’ in Syria, condemning the Haswiya killings of ‘‘whole families’’ and the deaths of women and children last week in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, and in explosions at Aleppo University that killed more than 80 people.

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Each side blamed the other for the blasts in Aleppo and for other large explosions in Daraa and Aleppo on Thursday — possibly from surface-to-surface missiles, whose frequent use would represent another escalation in the conflict.

On Friday, the UN commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, expressed dismay over the lack of Security Council action against the killing and the human rights abuses in Syria, where the death toll now surpasses 60,000.

She said her job was to give voice to the victims and ‘‘certainly they see the situation as the United Nations not carrying out its responsibility to protect victims.’’

Pillay strongly backed the call by 58 countries this month that the Security Council send Syria’s case to the International Criminal Court for investigation. Russia has made it clear that it will veto any such action.

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