At least 31 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed on Sunday in fighting over
the country’s future that coincided with a vote on a new constitution that could
keep President Bashar Assad in power until 2028.
The Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights said a military bombardment of opposition districts in Homs,
now in its fourth week, had killed nine civilians, while rebel fighters had
killed four soldiers in clashes in the city.
The group said eight
civilians and 10 members of the security forces were killed in violence
elsewhere in Syria, in what has become an increasingly militarized revolt
against four decades of Assad family rule.
Ilhan Tanir, a Turkish
journalist based in Washington, said setting up a humanitarian corridor to help
fleeing civilians is the most feasible option for intervention in Syria. Western
governments, however, have conditioned creating any such corridor on the assent
of the Syrian regime, an option Tanir said was all but impossible.
haven’t seen any signs that the Syrian regime would say yes,” Tanir, who snuck
into Syria last month, told The Jerusalem Post.
“Right now the regime
won’t even agree to a cease-fire for civilians in Homs to leave. I just don’t
see how the regime might give in.”
Voting was under way in the referendum
on a new constitution, which Assad says will lead to a multi-party parliamentary
election in three months, though his opponents see it as a sick joke, given
“What should we be voting for, whether to die by
bombardment or by bullets? This is the only choice we have,” said Waleed Fares, an activist in the Khalidiyah district of Homs.
Interior Ministry acknowledged obliquely that security conditions had disrupted
voting, saying, “The referendum on a new constitution is taking place in a
normal way in most provinces so far, with a large turnout, except in some
Prime Minister Adel Safar, asked about opposition calls for a
boycott, said that this showed a lack of interest in dialogue.
some groups that have a Western and foreign agenda and do not want reforms in
Syria and want to divert Syria’s steadfastness,” he told reporters.
are not concerned with this. We care about... spreading democracy and freedom in
the country,” he said.
“If there was a genuine desire for reform, there
would have been movement from all groups, especially the opposition, to start
dialogue immediately with the government to achieve the reforms and implement
them on the ground.”
The outside world has been powerless to restrain
Assad’s drive to crush the 11-month-old revolt.
Unwilling to intervene
militarily and unable to get the UN Security Council to act, due to Russian and
Chinese opposition, Western powers have imposed their own sanctions on Syria and
backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.
US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton warned on Sunday of the perils of any foreign
“I think there is every possibility of a civil
war. Outside intervention would not prevent that – it would probably
expedite it,” she told BBC television.
“We have a very dangerous set of
actors in the region: al-Qaida, Hamas and those who are on our terrorist list
claiming to support the opposition. You have many Syrians more worried
about what could come next,” she said.
“If you bring in automatic
weapons, which you can maybe smuggle across the border, what do they do against
tanks and heavy artillery? There is such a much more complex set of
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the referendum
was “nothing but a farce.”
“Sham votes cannot contribute to a solution of
the crisis. Assad needs to put an end to the violence and clear the way for a
political transition,” he said.
The military onslaught on parts of Homs
has created harrowing conditions for civilians, rebels and journalists.
video posted by activists on YouTube showed Muhammad al-Muhammad, a doctor at a
makeshift clinic in Baba Amro, holding a 15-yearold boy hit in the neck by
shrapnel and spitting blood.
“It is late at night and Baba Amro is still
being bombarded. We can do nothing for this boy,” said the doctor, who has also
been treating Western journalists wounded in the city.
correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in
the bombardment of Homs last week and two other Western journalists were
wounded. The group is still trapped there, despite Red Cross efforts to
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on
Saturday that it was still unable to evacuate civilians from Baba Amro. After a
day of talks with Syrian authorities and opposition fighters, it said there were
“no concrete results.”
In Hama, another city with a bloody record of
resistance to Ba’ath rule, one activist said nobody was taking part in the
“We will not vote on a constitution drafted by our killer,”
he said by satellite telephone.
If the constitution is approved in the
vote – an all but a foregone conclusion – it would drop an article making
Assad’s Ba’ath party the leader of state and society, allow political pluralism
and enact a presidential limit of two seven-year terms.
But the limit
will not be enforced retrospectively, meaning that Assad, already in power for
11 years, could serve another two terms after his current one expires in
Dozens of people lined up to vote in two polling stations visited
by a Reuters journalist in Damascus.
“I’ve come to vote for President
Bashar, God protect him and give him victory over his enemies,” said one man in
Another voter, Majed Elias, said, “This is a national duty;
whether I agree or not, I have to come and vote.”
This is Syria’s third
referendum since Assad inherited power from his late father. The first installed
him as president in 2000 with an official 97.29 percent “Yes” vote. The second
renewed his term seven years later with 97.62% in favor.