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Dumaguete City, PhilippinesMonday, June 18, 2012
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Palace appeals to
Filipinos not to go to Syria

MANILA – Malacañang appealed to Filipinos to forego any decision to work or accept work in Syria as civil strife in that Middle Eastern country continues to escalate.

The appeal was issued by Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte during a press briefing aired over government radio dzRB Radyo ng Bayan yesterday.

She said the government is concentrating its efforts on getting overseas Filipino workers out of Syria as soon as possible "to prevent putting any of our countrymen in any harm’s way."

Valte assured OFWs that personnel from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Department of Labor and Employment were ready to assist Filipinos in getting back home and finding alternate work locations in other countries.

Despite an ongoing ban for OFWs to go to Syria, Labor Attaché Angel Borja said in a recent report to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz that around 100 Filipinos arrive in Syria every month.

Borja said that Syria has remained under crisis alert level 4 that the Department of Foreign Affairs declared in December 2011.

Under this alert level, there is a continuing mandatory repatriation of Filipino nationals from Syria, Baldoz said.

Syrian troops tightened their grip on the flashpoint city of Homs yesterday as the opposition demanded the deployment of armed peacekeepers after UN observers halted their work because of bloodshed.

Violence cost at least another 19 lives on Sunday, taking the overall weekend death toll across the country close to 90, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Among them was a civilian killed in the rebel bastion of Khalidiyeh, which, like other parts of Homs, was "being shelled and shot at by regime forces who have been trying to enter these districts for several days," it said.

Speaking to AFP via Skype from the Old City neighbourhood of Homs, opposition activist Abu Bilal said the regime assault on several parts of the central city was "suffocating."

Bilal reiterated fears expressed by the opposition and rights watchdogs that, should regime forces enter the besieged districts, people trapped inside them "will be massacred."

Dozens of civilians were wounded in the Old City, "and many of them will die if they don't get treatment as we can't get any of the injured out," he warned.

Amateur video posted online by anti-regime activists in the Homs district of Jourat al-Shiah showed widespread destruction, deserted streets and parts of a building shelled and on fire.

On Saturday that more than 1,000 families were trapped in Homs, and that there was a lack of medical staff and equipment.

Home to rebel hideouts, Homs has been under intermittent attack by regime forces ever since its district of Baba Amr was relentlessly pounded for a month earlier this year and retaken by the regime.

The exiled Syrian National Council, the country's main opposition group called on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to arm the observers.

The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, or UNSMIS, suspended its operations two months into its three-month mandate on Saturday, blaming the intensifying violence.

The observers were progressively deployed starting in mid-April to monitor a UN-backed but widely flouted ceasefire, and were even likened to "sitting ducks in a shooting gallery" by Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations.*PNA/AFP

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