Civilian plight worsens in battered Homs
Damascus - Syrian troops battered Homs on Tuesday in some of the heaviest
shelling for days in the flashpoint city, a monitoring group said, as the
international community warned of a humanitarian disaster.
The top human rights representative at the United Nations said the world
body's inaction had "emboldened" the Syrian government to use
overwhelming force against its own civilians.
"The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action
appears to have emboldened the Syrian government to launch an all-out assault
in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force," said Navi Pillay,
High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The assault has been heaviest in Homs, which has been under a relentless
barrage of heavy machinegun fire, tank shells, mortars and rocket-propelled
grenades for 10 days.
"The shelling of the Baba Amr neighbourhood began at dawn and is the
most intense in five days," Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
"Two rockets are falling a minute on average," the head of the
Britain-based group said by telephone, citing activists on the ground.
A video uploaded to YouTube by activists showed a powerful blast
striking what they said was Baba Amr, leaving a plume of black smoke above the
Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution, an
opposition activist group, said the shelling of Baba Amr was extremely heavy.
"The situation is tragic. There are pregnant women, people with heart
problems, diabetics and, foremost, wounded people who we cannot evacuate,"
he said on the phone from the beleaguered city.
"On Monday evening three activists entered the town by car transporting
bread, baby milk and medicine," he said. "Their car was hit by a
rocket. They all burned to death.
"We told them it was dangerous but they said, 'If we don't help the
residents who will?'."
Abdullah said the humanitarian situation was worsening in Homs, where vital
supplies have been cut off for days, including communications, electricity,
food, medicines and water.
"The urgency is to evacuate the wounded. How can we let them die in
"For one week, the dead have been buried in gardens, because even the
cemeteries and graves are being targeted. People are crammed into
shelters," he added.
At the United Nations, Pillay said on Monday the Syrian government's assault
on Homs has killed at least 300 people since February 4, citing credible
sources on the ground.
The Homs assault began on the same day Russia and China vetoed a second
Security Council resolution on Syria, which has vowed to crush dissent
regardless of peace initiatives.
"The nature and scale of abuses committed by Syrian forces indicate
that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed since March
2011," said Pillay.
More than 6 000 people have been killed since forces of President Bashar Assad
launched a crackdown on protesters calling for democracy in last March,
according to monitors.
Friends of Syria
The United Nations put the figure at more than 5 400 in late December,
before it gave up counting the toll, citing difficulties on the ground.
The Arab League agreed on Sunday on its latest initiative to stop the
bloodshed, calling for the UN to approve a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping force.
However, the Syrian regime flatly rejected the proposal and Russia cast
doubt on it.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed hope that
talks to be held soon in Tunisia by the "Friends of Syria" coalition
would bring results.
"We look forward to joining the Arab League initiative for the 'Friends
of Syria' group, which will have its first meeting in Tunisia next week,"
The coalition is made up of Western and Arab nations keen to stop the
violence in Syria and further isolate Assad.
It was proposed by the United Sates after UN efforts to end the conflict
Clinton on Monday held talks on Syria by telephone with a top Chinese
official, the official Xinhua news agency said.
State Councillor Dai Bingguo and Clinton had "a frank and in-depth
exchange of views on the current Syria situation", the agency said.
The talks took place as Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping began a visit to
the United States.
Dai told Clinton the violence was "essentially Syria's internal
affair" and China backed efforts by the Arab League to resolve the
conflict through political means, said Xinhua.
He added that China's position on Syria had been "objective and fair and
its attitude was responsible", the report said.