Syrian forces attacked anti-government rebels and civilians in cities and towns
across the country Tuesday, as Arab officials confirmed regional governments
would be ready to arm the resistance if the bloodshed did not stop.
western city of Homs, the heart of the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s
11-year-rule, suffered a bombardment of pro-opposition neighborhoods for the
11th day running. Twenty people were reported killed nationwide
Residents also fled from Rankous, a rural town near the capital
Damascus, as it came under government artillery fire.
seemingly oblivious to international condemnation of his campaign to crush the
revolt, Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia pushed for a new resolution at the
United Nations supporting a peace plan forged at a meeting in Cairo on
But Arab League diplomats said that arming the opposition forces
was now officially an option.
A resolution passed at the meeting urged
Arabs to “provide all kinds of political and material support” to the
opposition, which would also allow arms transfers.
“We will back the
opposition financially and diplomatically in the beginning but if the killing by
the regime continues, civilians must be helped to protect themselves. The
resolution gives Arab states all options to protect the Syrian people,” an Arab
In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
said the peacekeeper proposal would be tough to get through, given Russian and
Chinese support for Damascus. Clinton seemed to suggest that foreign troops
could only be deployed to Syria with Assad’s permission.
“There are a lot
of challenges to be discussed... and certainly the peacekeeping request is one
that will take agreement and consensus,” she said at a press conference with her
Turkish counterpart. “So we don’t know that it is going to be possible to
persuade Syria. They’ve already, as of today, rejected that.”
also appeared to hint that Assad might somehow, of his own accord, adopt the
Arab League plan and step down.
“No one wants to see a civil war in
Syria. So we have to encourage the Assad regime, and those who support it, to
understand that there’s either a path toward peacemaking and democratic
transition – which is what we are promoting – or there’s a path that leads
toward chaos and violence, which we deplore,” she said.
The threat of
military support was meant to add pressure on the Syrian leader and his Russian
and Chinese allies but it also risks leading to a Libyastyle conflict or
sectarian civil war.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Tuesday it was
urgent to prevent war and chaos in Syria and vowed to work through the UN to
seek an end to civil strife in the country.
“On the issue of Syria, what
is most urgent and pressing now is to prevent war and chaos so that the Syrian
people will be free from even greater suffering,” Wen said.
are already filtering into Syria but it is not clear if Arab or other
governments are behind the deliveries.
Weapons and Sunni insurgents are
also seeping from Iraq into Syria, Iraqi officials and arms dealers
“We think fighters linked to al-Qaida and some Sunni armed groups
are sending fighters to Syria to participate in the fighting there as a kind of
moral support,” said one senior Baghdad security official.
flared anew on Tuesday in Rankous, near the capital Damascus. One activist said
many residents had fled the town from government shelling.
said Assad’s regime has used chemical warfare in order to ease its entrance into
Homs. Awad Al-Razak – an officer who defected from the Syrian army, where he
worked in the chemical warfare department – told Al-Arabiya the government had
used nerve gas under the supervision of Russian and Iranian scientists, and
intends to do so again in other parts of the country. The charges could not be
In Homs, a strategic city on the highway between
Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo, the pro-opposition neighborhood of Baba Amro
was struck at dawn by the heaviest shelling in five days, the Syria Observatory
for Human Rights said.
Twenty people were killed nationwide, it said,
adding to an estimated toll of more than 400 since the assault began on February
“They are hitting the same spots several consecutive times, making
venturing out there impossible. The shelling was heavy in the morning and now it
is one rocket every 15 minutes or so,” one activist said by satellite
“Residents are trapped. We have a man who sustained severe burns
and is dying and he needs a hospital,” he said, adding that the man was in a
truck picking up wounded people in Baba Amro overnight when it was hit by rocket
A doctor at a makeshift hospital in Baba Amro, appeared in a video
with a wounded youth he said was shot by a sniper in his side.
bullet ended up in the stomach. This is a critical condition that needs
transportation to a proper hospital,” he said. “We appeal to anyone with
conscience to intervene to stop the massacres of Bashar Assad and his
Opposition activist Mohammad al-Homsi said the humanitarian
situation was getting worse, with food and fuel short and prices tripling. Army
roadblocks had been set up around opposition districts, Homsi said from the
Shelling was also reported in the town of Rastan.
United Nations, diplomats said a draft General Assembly resolution, supporting
the Arab League plan and calling for the appointment of a joint UN-Arab League
envoy on Syria, could be put to a vote on Wednesday or Thursday.
resolution is similar to a Security Council draft vetoed by Russia and China on
February 4, which condemned the Assad government and called on him to step
There are no vetoes in General Assembly votes and its decisions
are not legally binding.
An Arab League proposal for a joint Arab-UN
peacekeeping mission be sent to Syria elicited a guarded response from Western
powers, who are wary of becoming bogged down militarily in Syria. It was
rejected out of hand by the Assad government.
Russia, Assad’s main ally
and arms supplier, also showed little enthusiasm, saying it could not support a
peacekeeping mission unless both sides stopped the violence first.
Syria conflict, the most prolonged of the revolts in the Arab world, which saw
the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya toppled last year, is shaping up to be a
geopolitical struggle reminiscent of the Cold War.
Russia wants to retain
its foothold in the region and counter US influence. Assad is also allied to
Iran, which is at odds with the United States, Europe and Israel.
Arab drive against Assad is led by Sunni-ruled Gulf states, who also see Shi’ite
Iran and its shadowy nuclear program as a threat.
Analysts say the
conflict could spread across the Middle East’s ethnic, religious and political
fault lines if it is not resolved.
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