Syrian forces bombarded opposition-held neighborhoods of the city of Homs with
rocket and mortar fire on Thursday, while divided world powers struggled to find
a way to end nearly a year of bloodshed.
The United Nations chief
condemned the ferocity of the government assault on the heart of a revolt
against President Bashar Assad that appears to be getting bloodier by the
“I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with
heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of things
to come,” UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said after briefing the Security
Council in New York.
Activists and residents report hundreds of people
killed over the past week as Assad’s forces try to stamp out opposition in Homs.
As Thursday dawned, rocket and mortar fire rained down again on Baba Amro,
Khalidiya and other districts.
Armored government reinforcements also
poured into the city.
Any international move to bring in humanitarian aid
could open a dangerous and complicated chapter in the crisis, with air drops
seen as expensive and ineffective and any land routes open to attack from Syrian
David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the opposition Free Syrian Army
should be provided with the means to defend itself.
“The president and
administration are still very much against it, but I think the people of Syria
have the right to defend themselves,” he said.
“The Russians are
certainly providing plenty of arms to Assad.
“We can change the nature of
the battle by giving them certain types of equipment and encouraging more
defections,” Schenker, a former Pentagon analyst on Syria and Lebanon, told The
. “Ultimately the goal would be to topple the regime. In the face
of this slaughter, the Syrian people aren’t backing down.”
Revolution Coordinating Commission said at least 30 civilians in Homs were
killed in bombardments on Thursday morning on mainly Sunni neighborhoods that
have been the focus of attacks by the government forces led largely by members
of Assad’s Alawite religious minority.
Such sectarian divisions have been
coming to the surface as killings have increased on both sides.
was growing over the plight of civilians and the United States said it was
considering ways to get food and medicine to them – a move that would deepen
international involvement in a conflict that has wide geopolitical dimensions
and has caused division among foreign powers.
“We on the US side have
already been looking at what we can do to prepare ourselves on both the
financial and legal side(s) so that we’re ready to provide humanitarian aid,
such as food and medicine,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“But we’re going to have to work with our international partners, we’re going to
have to work with neighboring states to identify coordinators on the ground who
could assist in receiving this aid and in distributing it.”
a US senator and former presidential candidate, said Washington needs a more
proactive Syria policy, and called to provide the rebels with arms. In an
interview with CNN on Thursday, the Arizona Republican said “peaceful means”
have been exhausted, and other options need to be considered.
do things by providing them with intelligence information, with satellite
information, with information on the movements of the Syrian armed forces,”
McCain said, adding that the US and allies could provide medical help and work
with Turkey to provide refuge for fleeing Syrians.
Foreign ministers of
the Arab League, which the UN’s Ban said was planning to revive an observer
mission it suspended last month, are due to meet in Cairo on Sunday. They may
want to hear other governments’ ideas by then.
Libya gave Syria’s charge
d’affaires and his staff in Tripoli 72 hours to leave the country, the Foreign
Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
China, cool to Western lobbying
for international involvement, nonetheless reported its first formal contact
with a Syrian opposition figure who visited Beijing last week.
the main street in Baba Amro was strewn with rubble and at least one house was
destroyed, according to YouTube footage broadcast by activists from the district
who said troops had used anti-aircraft cannon to demolish the
One video showed a youth putting two bodies wrapped in blankets
in a truck. What appeared to be body parts were shown inside the house.
doctor, his name given only as Muhammad, broadcast a cry for help on YouTube
from his makeshift surgery in a mosque.
Standing next to a bloody body on
a table, he said: “We appeal to the international community to help us transport
the wounded. We wait for them here to die in mosques. I appeal to the United
Nations and to international humanitarian organizations to stop the rockets from
being fired on us.”
The Syrian Human Rights Organization said this week’s
assault on Homs had killed at least 300 civilians and wounded 1,000, not
counting Thursday’s toll. International officials have estimated the overall
death toll in Syria since last March at more than 5,000.
neighborhoods of Homs remained without electricity and water and basic supplies
were running low.
Russia and China, which let the United Nations support
the air campaign in Libya, provoked strong condemnation from the United States,
European powers and Arab governments when they vetoed a resolution in the
Security Council last week that called on Assad to step down.
whom Syria is a buyer of arms and host to a Soviet-era naval base, wants to
counter US influence and maintain its traditional role in the Middle
Campaigning for next month’s presidential election that he is
certain to win, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said: “Help them, advise them,
limit, for instance, their ability to use weapons but not interfere under any
Ban said it was more urgent than ever to find common
ground. In an implicit criticism of the Assad government, he said: “Such
violence is unacceptable before humanity... We have heard too many broken
promises, even within the past 24 hours.”
In Washington, officials said
the United States planned to meet soon with its allies to discuss ways to halt
the violence and provide humanitarian aid to civilians under
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the talks, which would
include the opposition Syrian National Council, were aimed at helping the
process “move toward a peaceful, political transition, democratic transition in
Also on Thursday, Syria’s top Sunni cleric thanked Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his unwavering support of the Assad regime,
the Iranian presidency website reported.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed
Badreddin Hassoun conveyed the “thanks of the Syrian people and president for
the stance of Ahmadinejad and our nation,” the website said after a meeting
between the two men late on Wednesday in Tehran, AFP
Ahmadinejad told the cleric that “the main aim of the
dominating and bullying powers is to preserve the Zionist regime.”
US and its allies are seeking to launch a new war in the region and to break the
line of Islamic resistance,” Ahmadinejad said.
“But we believe that with
wisdom and unity we can stand against them.”
Iran has stood by its
longtime ally Damascus during the past year’s unrest, but denies Western
allegations it is providing military and financial support for Assad’s