* Air strike levels several houses, dozens search rubble
* Saudi Arabia tells citizens to leave Lebanon after kidnap
* UN report: Assad's forces and rebels have committed war
* UN investigators say state crimes outweigh those of rebels
* Islamic grouping set to suspend Syria at Mecca summit
By Hadeel Al Shalchi
AZAZ, Syria, Aug 15 A Syrian air strike killed
30 people in a rebel-held town on Wednesday, a local doctor
said, and a mass kidnapping linked to Syria in neighbouring
Lebanon raised the prospect of sectarian violence spreading.
That citizens of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, key supporters of
the Sunni Muslim insurgency, were among those seized by Lebanese
Shi'ites prompted Gulf states to urge citizens to leave Lebanon.
It also underscored how the Syrian conflict is dividing the
region along sectarian lines as world powers remain deadlocked.
Doctor Mohammad Lakhini said at a hospital in Azaz, in the
north near the Turkish border, that scores of people there were
wounded in the raid by President Bashar al-Assad's air force. It
reduced several houses to rubble and dozens of men clawed
through the concrete and metal debris looking for survivors.
In video posted by activists earlier on Wednesday, residents
in Azaz - close to the major urban battleground of Aleppo -
screamed and shouted "God is greatest" as they carried bloodied
bodies from collapsed concrete buildings.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
dozens had been killed. One activist in the town said at least
30 bodies had been found and rescuers were searching for more.
The video footage, which could not be immediately verified,
showed crowds of residents wrestling with steel bars and pulling
away a giant slab of concrete to reveal the dust-covered arm of
a child. "This is a real catastrophe," said an activist who gave
his name only as Anwar. "An entire street was destroyed."
Seven Lebanese hostages being held in Azaz were also
wounded, with four others still missing, a rebel commander said.
"The building they were in was hit," rebel commander Ahmed
Ghazali told the Lebanese news channel Al Jadeed.
"We were able to remove seven from the wreckage. They are
wounded, and some of the injuries are serious."
Assad's forces have increasingly used helicopter gunships
and warplanes against the lightly-armed insurgents - elements in
fresh accusations of war crimes leveled by United Nations human
rights investigators on Wednesday.
The Syrian civil war has taken on overtly sectarian
overtones, with most rebels belonging to the Sunni Muslim
majority, fighting against government forces rooted in Assad's
Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Regional powers are being drawn into the fight, with
Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey supporting the rebels
and Shi'ite Iran backing Assad's government. Fighting between
Sunnis and Shi'ites lay behind long civil wars in Syria's
neighbours Iraq and Lebanon, and the West fears the violence
In Lebanon, gunmen belonging to a powerful Shi'ite clan
abducted more than 20 men, including at least one Turk, one
Saudi and several Syrian anti-Assad fighters, in retaliation for
the capture of one of their kinsmen by rebels in Damascus.
The incident, in an area of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah
Shi'ite militants long allied to Assad and supported by Iran,
raised the prospect of Syria's sectarian violence spilling over
to its neighbour. Mass kidnapping was a perennial tactic in
Lebanon's own sectarian civil war from 1975-1990.
Members of the Meqdad clan said they had carried out the
kidnappings in retaliation for the capture of kinsman Hassan
al-Meqdad by anti-Assad rebels in Damascus two days earlier.
They threatened to carry out more abductions of Qataris,
Turks and Saudis. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates told
their citizens to leave Lebanon - potentially dealing a blow to
Beirut's reviving tourist business.
Syria's civil war has polarised Lebanon, with Shi'ites
rallying behind Assad and Sunnis backing his enemies.
In Damascus, a bomb exploded in the car park of a hotel used
by U.N. monitors, but several military buildings are also in the
vicinity and it was not clear what the target was. No U.N. staff
were hurt in the blast which set a fuel tanker ablaze.
State media said three people were wounded in the bombing
and several rebels were killed or captured in a separate
gunbattle with security forces in the western district of Mezze.
U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos, on a mission
to seek more access for aid deliveries, was meeting European
Union officials in Damascus when the bomb went off.
She herself was unable to reach the town of Douma, a trouble
spot just north of the capital, due to bombardment.
"Waiting at checkpoint to get into Duma. Sounds of shelling.
Could not enter," Amos tweeted. The authorities told her she had
been turned back for her own safety, her spokesman said later.
As the violence intensified, U.N. human rights investigators
accused forces loyal to Assad of committing war crimes and
crimes against humanity.
They said rebels had also committed war crimes, but the
violations "did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale" of
those by state forces and the pro-Assad shabbiha militia.
"The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that
government forces and the shabbiha had committed the crimes
against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross
violations of international human rights law and international
humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, torture, arbitrary
arrest and detention, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack,
pillaging and destruction of property," said the 102-page report
by the independent investigators led by Paulo Pinheiro.
Last month, Assad's troops successfully counter-attacked
after rebels seized parts of Damascus. They are still trying to
dislodge insurgents from Aleppo, Syria's biggest city.
A Syrian air strike has wrecked a hospital in a rebel-held
area of Aleppo, a doctor there said on Wednesday, an attack that
New York-based Human Rights Watch said violated international
law. At least two holes gaped in the walls of Al Shifaa Hospital
and four floors were heavily damaged by Tuesday's raid.
"If we had lingered just another five minutes, we would have
died," said the surgeon, who gave his name only as Younes.
Dust covered hospital beds, incubators were broken and the
floor was strewn with rubble. Water from a broken tank had
leaked out, mixing with patches of blood.
Opposition sources say 18,000 people have been killed since
the uprising against Assad erupted in March last year. The
bloodshed has divided regional and world powers, making peace
efforts fruitless and paralysing the U.N. Security Council.
Most Western and Arab governments have called on Assad to
go, saying his government's violent response to initially
peaceful protests give him no place in a future Syria.
Russia has opposed tougher U.N. sanctions against Damascus,
a long-time strategic ally, but denies it is actively helping
Assad remain in power. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused
Western governments of reneging on a deal among world powers
made on June 30 to push for a transitional government in Syria.
Washington shot back that it was Russia and China which had
blocked efforts to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution on a
transition. Moscow has said the Western powers should not make
the removal of Assad a pre-condition for such a handover.
Muslim heads of state were expected to suspend Syria from
the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at a summit in Mecca on
Wednesday, over the objections of Iran, Assad's closest ally.
The 57-member body's rebuke is mostly symbolic, but it shows
Syria's isolation - as well as Iran's - across much of the
Sunni-majority Islamic world.