Homs under new blitz as leaders shape plan

Fri, Feb 10, 2012, 00:00

SYRIAN FORCES yesterday continued to fire rockets and mortars into rebel-held districts in the central city of Homs, opposition spokesmen said, as a plan to deploy Arab League and UN monitors was being shaped by world powers seeking to put an end to the conflict.

Violence was also said to have erupted in Deraa in the south and Zabadani in the west.

Homs districts reportedly targeted included Bab Amr and Khalidiya, major rebel strongholds. The army sent reinforcements and armoured vehicles into the eastern edge of the city where rebels have been trying to seize control of the ring road.

The sound of explosions and heavy machinegun fire reached residents living in al-Wair, a district west of Bab Amr.

Opposition local co-ordination committees put the death toll for the day at 120, other activist groups at 30-60. These tolls are impossible to verify. Due to the militarisation of the uprising, rebel fighters form an increasing proportion of fatalities.

A doctor who gave his name as Muhammad al-Muhammad issued an appeal for help on YouTube from his field clinic in a mosque. “We appeal to the international community to help us transport the wounded” to hospitals before they die. “I appeal to the United Nations and to international humanitarian organisations to stop the rockets from being fired on us.”

After briefing the Security Council, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon stated, “I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighbourhoods, is a grim harbinger of things to come.”

Mr Ban said that he will “consult with the council before fleshing out the details” of the plan for a joint Arab League-UN mission to monitor implementation of the November League plan.

This provides for an end to violence by all sides, withdrawal of troops and tanks from urban areas, release of prisoners, and negotiations. Since rebel fighters have become a major force on the ground since the Arab League adopted this plan, it can be expected that the Syrian government – wary of UN involvement – will insist that rebel fighters should also be pulled out of cities, towns and villages and prisoners held by these groups be freed.

Sanctions are unlikely to oust the Assad regime and could even bolster its domestic popularity, warned Selim Yenel, Turkey’s am- bassador to the EU, as the bloc considered boosting existing sanctions.

“We don’t believe in sanctions. They never work . . . In Syria they will hurt people.” He observed that sanctions have never turned citizens against their rulers.

Posting in a personal blog, Britain’s ambassador in Syria, Simon Collis, withdrawn this week from Damascus, revealed that he has warned the Syrian opposition against violence.

“I tell the . . . opposition at every opportunity to avoid the path of armed resistance . . . the sad truth is that violence begets violence. That is why it is important that all sides refrain from violence and that the regime allows a political transition instead of repeating . . . hollow promises of reform.”

Moscow’s proposal for Russian-mediated talks between the government and the opposition has been torpedoed by Washington.

White House spokesman Jay Carny said Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who met here with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, said Mr Assad had missed the chance for dialogue. Mr Carney said the US plans to consult its allies to discuss ways to halt the violence and provide humanitarian aid to people in areas where clashes are taking place.