Arab League: Heavy fighting edging Syria into civil war

Elarabi slams use of heavy weapons against civilians hours after dozens are killed in shelling of Homs, says escalation is taking the crisis in "a serious direction."

Smoke rising in Hama, Syria 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smoke rising in Hama, Syria 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The head of the Arab League said on Monday the Syrian army's use of heavy weapons against civilians was an escalation that edged the country towards civil war.
"We follow with great anxiety and irritation developments in the field situation in Syria, and the escalation of military operations in the city of Homs and rural areas of Damascus, and the Syrian armed forces' use of heavy weapons against civilians," Arab League chief Nabil Elarabi said in a statement.
In the statement published by the Egyptian state news agency, Elarabi said the escalation took the crisis in Syria in "a serious direction," adding that it pushed "conditions towards a slide towards civil war."
Syrian forces bombarded Homs on Monday, killing 50 people in a sustained assault on several districts of the city which has become a center of armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Syrian National Council opposition group said.
"The tally that we have received from various activists in Homs since the shelling started at six this morning is 50, mostly civilians," the group's Catherine al-Talli told Reuters.
"The regime is acting as if it were immune to international intervention and has a free hand to use violence against the people," she said.
The bombardment came a day after the United States promised harsher sanctions against Damascus in response to Russian and Chinese vetoes of a draft UN resolution that would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to step aside.
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"This is the most violent bombardment in recent days," said one activist in Syria who was in touch with Homs residents. Another activist said forces loyal to Assad were using multiple rocket launchers in the attack.
An Arab foreign ministers' meeting called to discuss the situation in Syria was postponed by one day to Feb. 12, the League said in a separate statement on Monday. The delay was requested by Gulf states which are holding their own meeting on Feb. 11 in Riyadh.
Arab satellite television stations broadcast live footage from Homs. Explosions could be heard and smoke was seen rising from some buildings.
The latest assault, which began shortly after 2 a.m. (midnight GMT) on Monday, appeared to be more widely targeted, with explosions in Khalidiya, Baba Amro, Bayada and Bab Dreib neighborhoods, the activists said.