Saturday, February 04, 2012

'Hundreds of casualties' in Syria's Homs

Activists say hospital overwhelmed in flashpoint city after government
forces deploy tanks and mortars.

04 Feb 2012 Al Jazeera

Hundreds of people have been killed or injured in a major army offensive
in the central Syrian city of Homs, activists say.

Activists talking to Al Jazeera on Saturday said the army had used tanks,
mortars and machine guns in the assault on the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood,
which began on Friday night and continued overnight.

Al Jazeera's Mysa Khalaf, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon,
said sources in Syria told her bombardment of the area started after the
opposition Free Syrian Army attacked Syrian army checkpoints and killed
about 10 soldiers.

"Since then, it seems that Khaldiyeh has been under constant bombardment,"
she said."Several buildings have been destroyed.

"I've been told that the main public hospital is completely overwhelmed
and people have set up makeshift clinics in mosques. They are running low
on supplies of blood."

As reports of the violence spread, angry protesters stormed the Syrian
embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, and staged demonstrations outside
the embassies in the UK and the US, demanding an end to the deaths.

Stones were thrown at the building during the demonstration in London.

'Random bombarding'

Hadi al-Abdallah, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera that army defectors
had captured 19 members of the security forces earlier in the day.

Activists said government forces were targeting the neighbourhoods of Bab
Tadmour, Bab Dreib, and Karm el-Shami simultaneously, as the military
campaign in Khaldiyeh intensified.

Video purportedly showing a building on fire in al-Inshaat neighbourhood
was posted online, after activists said the area was also shelled by
government forces.

"There has been non-stop bombardment in Bab Amr [neighbourhood of Homs]
... They've been bombarding Bab Amr and Khaldiyeh non-stop with mortar
bombs and tank shells ... it's just random bombarding on rooftops," Danny
Abdul Dayem, an activist, told Al Jazeera early on Saturday.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 soldiers were
killed in clashes with opposition fighters and that five army defectors
had lost their lives.

The group cited witnesses saying 217 people had been killed in Homs, 138
of them in Khaldiyeh.

The opposition Syrian National Council decried Saturday's violence as a
"horrific massacre".

"The Syrian National Council calls on everyone around the world to speak
up and do something to stop the bloodshed of innocent Syrians," it said in
a statement.

Homs is one of the flashpoint cities in Syria's uprising, and some areas,
including Khaldiyeh, have become strongholds of the armed opposition.

The official SANA news agency blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the
violence, and reported that media reports were "distortion [and]

UN vote

In a bid to halt the escalating violence, diplomats at the UN Security
Council in New York have for days been debating a draft resolution
condemning human rights violations in Syria.

Al Jazeera meets activists in Homs who are defying bullets to document

A vote on the latest draft was expected as the council was due to meet in
New York on Saturday.

On Friday, a senior US state department official said his country was
"cautiously optimistic" that Syria's ally, Russia, would support the

The latest draft does not explicitly call on Assad to step down or mention
an arms embargo or sanctions, though it "fully supports" an Arab League
plan to facilitate a democratic transition.

Speaking on conditions of anonymity, the official said: "From our
perspective, this meets the objective of supporting the demands of the
Syrian people and the Arab League ... providing a peaceful Syrian-led
political path forward."

In its statement, the SNC demanded that Russia "clearly condemn the regime
and hold it responsible for the massacres".

Activists in Homs have been calling for foreign intervention to stop the
violence there.

"We want any kind of intervention by any kind of troops. We want anyone to
help us. Our Free Syrian Army only has Kalashnikovs, has machine guns.
Some RPGs, some rockets" Dayem told Al Jazeera.

"They cannot fight the whole Syrian army, that has tanks, that has planes.
We want anyone to come in and help us.

"Civilians are dying, women are dying, kids are dying. Why isn't anyone
doing anything about this? No-one is helping us."

Commemorating Hama

On Friday, thousands of protesters took to the streets across Syria to
commemorate the 1982 massacre in the city of Hama, ordered by late
President Hafez al-Assad, that killed tens of thousands.

"While we commemorate Hama massacres, the son [President Bashar al-Assad]
is imitating his father," Burhan Ghallioun, the head of the Syrian
National Council, the main opposition bloc, told Al Jazeera.

The whole city [Homs] is being targeted by heavy weaponry. The hospitals
are in siege by the regime tanks. They want the injured to become dead."

Syrian activists: 200 dead in government assault

By ZEINA KARAM | Associated Press – Feb. 3, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — In a barrage of mortar shells, Syrian forces killed 200
people and wounded hundreds in Homs in an offensive that appears to be the
bloodiest episode in the nearly 11-month-old uprising, activists said

The assault in Homs, which has been one of the main flashpoints of
opposition during the uprising, comes as the U.N. Security Council
prepares to vote on a draft resolution backing an Arab call for President
Bashar Assad to give up power.

Telephone calls to Homs were not going through, but residents of nearby
areas described a hellish night of shelling.

"Homs is on fire," said one opposition activist in a quieter area near the
city, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal. "All sides
are attacking each other and the number of casualties is more than anyone
can count," he said.

The government denied the assault. Syrian TV said the reports were part of
a "hysterical campaign of incitement by the armed groups" against Syria,
meant to be exploited at the Security Council.

It claimed that corpses shown in amateur videos posted online — bodies
that activists said were victims of the assault — were purportedly of
people kidnapped by "terrorist armed groups" who filmed them to portray
them as victims of the alleged shelling.

Two main opposition groups, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, said the death toll in Homs
was more than 200 people and included women and children in mortar
shelling that began late Friday. More than half of the killings — about
140 — were reported in the Khaldiyeh neighborhood.

"This is the worst attack of the uprising, since the uprising began in
March until now," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Observatory,
which tracks violence through contacts on the ground.

The reports could not be independently confirmed.

It was not immediately clear what precipitated the attack, but there have
been reports that army defectors set up checkpoints in the area and were
trying to consolidate control.

Unconfirmed reports also said gunmen, possibly army defectors, had
attacked a military checkpoint in Khaldiyeh, captured 17 of its members,
prompting intense clashes with the military.

Homs is known to shelter a large number of army defectors known as the
Free Syrian Army.

The LCC called on residents of Homs and surrounding areas to support the
people of Khaldiyeh and nearby Bayada by donating blood and housing
families fleeing from the bombing.

It called for sit-ins in front of all Syrian embassies and consulates in
capitals across the world.

In Kuwait, demonstrators stormed into the Syrian Embassy compound on
Saturday, breaking windows and hoisting the flag of the opposition,
witnesses there said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they
were not authorized to talk to the media.

They said there were no serious injuries at the embassy, where protesters
ripped down the Syrian flag. Police later cleared the area and blocked

There was also reports of protesters storming the Syrian Embassy in Cairo
and starting a fire.

Earlier on Friday, deadly clashes erupted between government troops and
rebels in suburbs of the Syrian capital and villages in the south,
sparking fighting that killed at least 23 people, including nine soldiers,
activists said.

Assad is trying to crush the revolt with a sweeping crackdown that has so
far claimed thousands of lives, but neither the government nor the
protesters are backing down and clashes between the military and an
increasingly bold and armed opposition has meant many parts of the country
have seen relentless violence.

The U.N. Security Council will meet Saturday morning to take up a
much-negotiated resolution on Syria, said a diplomat for a Western nation
that sits on the council.

The diplomat spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to be quoted by the media.

The move toward a vote came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in
an effort to overcome Russian opposition to any statement that explicitly
calls for regime change or a military intervention in Syria.

The U.S. and its partners have ruled out military action but want the
global body to endorse an Arab League plan that calls on Assad to hand
power over to Syria's vice president.

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said Friday that Moscow
could not support the resolution in its current form. But he expressed
optimism that an agreement could be reached, according to state news
agency RIA Novosti.

Assad's regime has been intensifying an assault against army defectors and
protesters. The U.N. said weeks ago that more than 5,400 people have been
killed in violence since March. Hundreds more have been killed since that
tally was announced.


AP writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut, Anita Snow at the United
Nations and Hussein al-Qatari in Kuwait City contributed to this report.

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