Syrian troops attack Homs defectors
Beirut - Syrian troops stormed a defiant neighbourhood of the embattled city of Homs on Monday, kicking in doors and making arrests after nearly a week of violence pitting soldiers against army defectors and protesters demanding the downfall of President Bashar Assad, activists said.
It was not immediately clear whether government troops had regained control of the Baba Amr district, where the government is reportedly facing armed resistance from army defectors who have taken refuge in the neighbourhood and in surrounding districts.
More than 110 people have been reported killed in the past week in Homs, a city of about 800 000 that has turned into one of the main centres of protest and reprisal during the nearly 8-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad, according to Ibrahim Hozan, a spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees activist network.
The violence comes despite claims by Syria that it is complying with an Arab League-sponsored plan to end the crackdown.
Activists said two people were killed in the city and the surrounding province on Monday, pushing the death toll from the past 24 hours to at least 18.
It was impossible to verify the events on the ground. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and restricted coverage, making independent confirmation nearly impossible.
Much of the violence of the past few days is reported to have involved members of the military who defected to the protesters and were fighting to protect civilians, according to Syrian activist groups.
"There is a major campaign of arrests going on in some of the toughest neighbourhoods of the district," an activist in Homs told The Associated Press by telephone. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his personal safety.
Over the course of the uprising, government troops have cracked down repeatedly on Homs, Syria's third largest city, and have imposed a tight siege in the past five days.
Activists say that government forces have employed live fire to break up unarmed protests, and have used tank guns and other heavy weapons indiscriminately in residential areas. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday's dead included an 8-year-old girl who died in random gunfire from a security checkpoint in the Houla district.
A key Syrian opposition group declared Homs a "disaster area" and appealed for international intervention to protect civilians and for sending Arab and international observers to oversee the situation on the ground.
"For the fifth consecutive day, the Syrian regime is imposing a brutal siege on the brave city of Homs, aiming to break the will of its residents who have dared to reject the regime's authority," the Syrian National Council said in a statement on Monday.
The group said the latest siege was preventing medical supplies and food from getting into Homs and preventing families from moving to safer areas.
Violence in Syria has continued unabated, though Damascus agreed last week to an Arab-brokered peace plan to halt its crackdown on the uprising that the UN says has left 3 000 people dead.
The violence prompted Qatar's prime minister to call for an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss Damascus' failure to abide by its commitments.
Egypt's official news agency MENA reported on Sunday that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani called for the meeting "in light of the continuing acts of violence and the Syrian government's noncompliance" with the terms of the Arab plan.
Syria's ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League, Youssef Ahmed, said he was "astonished" by comments made earlier this week by Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby in which he warned that the failure of the Arab plan would have disastrous consequences.
"The secretary general should not be taking sides against the Syrian government, especially that we have been providing information that shows the attacks perpetrated by armed terrorist groups against civilian and security forces," Ahmed told Syrian TV.
He renewed Syria's commitment to the plan, and said Syria has taken significant steps toward implementing it by offering an amnesty for those who readily give up their weapons and releasing more than 500 prisoners.
Under the Arab League plan, Syria's government agreed to pull tanks and armoured vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.
Arab League deputy secretary general Ahmed bin Heli told reporters on Monday that the League had received a message from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem about "measures adopted by the Syrian government to implement the Arab league plan to solve the Syrian crisis".
Bin Heli did not elaborate on the measures that the Syrian government said it had taken, nor on the other contents of the message.