Tanks fire in Homs, rebels call for intervention

Free Syrian Army leader calls for UNSC to approve intervention after "failed" Arab League observer mission.

By REUTERS
January 17, 2012 13:39
4 minute read.
Soldiers who defected to Free Syria Army [file]

Syrian army defectors 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BEIRUT - As tanks fired in Homs and rebels fired rockets in Damascus Tuesday, a Syrian rebel army chief urged the world to protect civilians, saying Arab peace monitors had failed to curb Syrian President Bashar Assad's violent response to a 10-month-old revolt against his rule.

Big powers have also proved unable to stop the bloodshed in Syria, where UN officials say more than 5,000 people have been killed and Damascus says its security forces have lost 2,000 dead.

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Riad al-Asaad, a Turkish-based leader of the rebel Free Syrian Army, called for international intervention to replace the Arab observer mission, which has only days to run.

"The Arab League and their monitors failed in their mission and though we respect and appreciate our Arab brothers for their efforts, we think they are incapable of improving conditions in Syria or resisting this regime," he told Reuters by telephone.

"For that reason we call on them to turn the issue over to the UN Security Council and we ask that the international community intervene because they are more capable of protecting Syrians at this stage than our Arab brothers," Asaad said.

President Assad, while proffering reform, has vowed to crush his "terrorist" foes with an "iron fist," but Syrians braving bullets and torture chambers appear equally determined to add him to the past year's list of toppled Arab leaders.

Army deserters and other rebels have taken up arms against security forces dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect, pushing Sunni Muslim-majority Syria closer to civil war.

Fresh violence in Homs and Damascus

"Terrorists" firing rockets killed an officer and five of his men at a rural checkpoint near Damascus, and wounded seven others, the state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday, a day after gunmen assassinated a brigadier general near the capital.

Eight people were killed when a bomb hit a minibus on the Aleppo-Idlib road, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In Homs, tank fire crashed into the Khalidiya district after a night rally against Assad there, activists said. YouTube footage showed a crowd dancing at the rally and waving old Syrian flags used before the Baath Party seized power in 1963.

The British-based Observatory said two people were killed and nine wounded in the violence in Homs.

Activists also reported fighting between rebels and troops trying to edge into Khalidiya, a neighborhood that is home to Sunni tribesmen and lies next to the Alawite district of Nozha.

Tanks were firing sporadically at the rebel-held town of Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, which has been under attack since Friday, activists said. They added that several soldiers who had tried to defect to the opposition had been killed.

Syrian forces shot dead a man at a roadblock in the restive Damascus suburb of Qatana, they said, and an activist was killed by sniper fire in the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun.

The Arab League must decide soon whether to withdraw its 165 monitors, whose mandate expires on Thursday, or keep them in Syria, even though they are set to report that Damascus has not fully implemented a peace plan agreed on Nov. 2.

The Arab plan required Syria to halt the bloodshed, withdraw troops from cities, free detainees, provide access for the monitors and the media and open talks with opposition forces.

Qatar has proposed sending in Arab troops, a bold idea for the often sluggish League and one likely to be resisted by Arab rulers close to Assad and those worried about unrest at home.

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The League could ask the UN Security Council to act, but until now opposition from Russia and China has prevented the world body from even criticizing Syria, an old ally of Moscow.

Western diplomats said a Russian draft resolution handed to the Council on Monday did not make clear if Moscow would accept tough language demanded by the West.

A Syrian lawmaker told Reuters on Monday he had fled the country to join the opposition after losing hope that Assad would enact reforms or stop the violence.

"Blood is in the streets," said Imad Ghalioun, from the restive city of Homs, who took refuge in Cairo two weeks ago.

"The whole country is bleeding. I do not think there will be any reforms because the young people have taken their decision," he said. "This is a revolution and there is no going back."


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