Smoke rises over Syria's Homs 370 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)
AMMAN - More than 20 people were killed in the Syrian city of
Homs on Saturday, a doctor said, as fighting raged around a road junction on a
supply line to government forces in the interior of the country.
opposition accuses shabbiha militia loyal to President Bashar Assad of
killing some 200 Sunni Muslim civilians in Homs in massacres over the last two
weeks, but a Syrian ban on most independent media makes such reports difficult
In a video statement from a makeshift hospital in the city,
Mohammad Mohammad, a doctor who has been treating the wounded underground for
months, displayed the bodies of five people whose remains had been charred to unrecognizable bits.
"They are the Uzam family. The father, mother and
three children - the shabbiha burnt them completely, as part of the annihilation
the regime is bringing on the area of Jobar-Kfar Aaya," Mohammad said, referring
to districts of Homs.
"We are here surrounded. We have more than 20 dead
today. They have been documented by name." He said the victims had died in
fighting, bombardment and summary executions.
At least 60,000 people have
been killed in Syria's civil war. Mostly Sunni Homs, a commercial and
agricultural hub 140 km (90 miles) north of Damascus, has been at the heart of
the 22-month uprising against Assad.
Syrian authorities have not
commented on the latest fighting in the city. In the past, official media have
described army operations as designed to 'cleanse' Homs from what they described
Speaking from Istanbul after visiting
Homs, Mohammad Mroueh, a member of the Higher Leadership Council of the Syrian
Revolution, told Reuters: "The rebels are holding their ground but the shabbiha
are getting to the civilians.
"It's hard to describe what's happening in
terms other than ethnic cleansing of Sunni districts in the way of Alawite
supply lines," said Mroueh, who was in Homs earlier this week.
Alawites, who follow an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam and comprise about 10 percent
of the population, have dominated Syria's power structure and its security
apparatus since the 1960s. Assad and most of the ruling elite are
A highway that passes near Homs has been used to supply Alawite
forces deployed on hilltops in Damascus from bases in the coastal cities of
Tartous and Latakia, which have a sizable Alawite population, according to
Sunnis fear that the city could become part of an
Alawite enclave stretching to the coast, where major military bases are located,
if Assad was forced to leave Damascus.
"The massacres are increasing and
Bashar Assad has began to draw borders of this mini-state and associate the
Alawites more with blood so that they have no other option but to join him,"
wrote opposition campaigner Fawaz Tello in an article published on All4Syria
Syria's conflict has grown more sectarian, deepening the
Sunni-Shi'ite divide in the Middle East which burst into the open when Shi'ites
gained political ascendancy in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. led invasion that
deposed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
A statement by an insurgent group,
the Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad, said neighborhoods of southern
and western Homs were being hit with battlefield artillery and barrages from
Activists in Homs said at least 120 civilians and 40
opposition fighters had been killed in the past week and that rebels from the
nearby town of Qusair on the border with Lebanon were trying to relieve pressure
on the western neighborhoods.
The armed opposition has been weakened in
the city after a drop in ammunition supplies in recent weeks and after Assad's
forces tightened a siege on western areas, according to opposition
A counter-offensive by rebels two days ago in the western sector
pushed back Assad's forces slightly, but they continued to pound the area with
artillery and from the air, the sources said.