Syria’s Homs Battered as Civilian Plight Worsens
Syria’s army killed at least six civilians Tuesday in the heaviest shelling of Homs for several days, monitors said, as the international community warned of a humanitarian disaster in the city.
A Syrian man’s face shows the slogan ‘Bashar for ever’ at a pro-regime rally in Damascus today (AFP, Patrick Baz)
The top human rights representative at the United Nations said the world body’s inaction had “emboldened” Syria’s government to unleash 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 the central city of 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 Tuesday.
“Two rockets are falling a minute on average,” the head of the Britain-based monitoring group told AFP by telephone, citing activists on the ground.
“Six civilians died in the continuous shelling of Baba Amr neighbourhood this morning,” the Observatory said later in an emailed statement.
A video uploaded to YouTube by activists showed a powerful blast striking what they said was Baba Amr, sending flames shooting into the sky and a plume of black smoke up over the rebel stronghold.
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 cold blood?”
“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 Monday the Syrian forces’ 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 President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched a crackdown on protesters calling for democracy in March, according to monitoring groups.
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 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,” said Clinton.
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 failed.
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.
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said Tuesday that his country will not protect Assad’s regime.
“China will absolutely not protect any party, including the government in Syria,” Wen told reporters in Beijing, during an EU-China summit.