'Syrian forces shell Homs, breaking ceasefire'

In first bombings since tenuous truce takes hold, President Assad's forces attack two central districts in Homs.

Homs after shelling 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Homs after shelling 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BEIRUT - Syrian forces shelled two central districts in the battered city of Homs throughout the night and into Saturday morning, a resident activist and a human rights group said, the first bombings since a ceasefire took hold on Thursday.
"There was shelling last night in the old part of the city, in Jouret al-Shiyah and al-Qaradis. And I have heard eight shells fall in the past hour," Karm Abu Rabea, a resident activist who lives in an adjacent neighborhood, said on Saturday morning.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that shelling had wounded several people overnight.
On Friday, Syrian forces shot dead five protesters after prayers, activists reported, while the government said an army officer was killed.
Syrians took to the streets across the country in small demonstrations, trusting that the two-day-old truce that is meant to lead to political dialogue would protect them from the army bullets that have frightened off peaceful protesters for months.
Activists said security forces came out in strength in many cities to prevent protesters mounting major rallies against Assad, even though the plan of UN-Arab League envoy Annan says the government should have pulled its troops back.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees said two people were killed as marchers tried to converge on a central square in the city of Hama.
Soldiers also shot one person dead as worshipers left a mosque in Nawa in the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising began in March 2011. Security forces killed a fourth in the town of Salqeen in the northwestern province of Idlib, opposition activists said, and a fifth was killed in Deraya, Damascus province.
However, Syria's state news agency SANA blamed two of the deaths on the opposition, saying an "armed terrorist group" shot dead the man in Salqeen and attributing the death of one Hama protester to a shot fired by a fellow demonstrator.
SANA also said "terrorists" shot an army major dead as he drove to work. Armed groups were seeking to "destroy any effort to find a political solution to the crisis" in Syria, it said.
International community attempts to save Syria truce
At the United Nations, Russia said it was not satisfied with a Western-Arab draft resolution authorizing an advance UN team to monitor the fragile ceasefire which aims to end 13 months of bloodshed during the uprising against Assad, an ally of Moscow. The council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the draft on Saturday if Russia can be persuaded to support it.
International pressure has grown for Syria to fulfill all its commitments to the former UN chief by withdrawing troops and heavy weapons, permitting humanitarian and media access, releasing prisoners and discussing a political transition.
At the Security Council, a US-drafted resolution called for an initial deployment of up to 30 unarmed UN observers.
Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters after an inconclusive Security Council meeting on the draft resolution that "we need to cut off all the things which are not really necessary for this particular purpose."
In addition to authorizing UN observers, the draft criticizes Damascus for human rights violations and hints at the possibility of further action by the 15-nation council. The US and European delegations will revise it later on Friday in the hope of securing Russian support, council diplomats said.
Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions condemning Assad's assault on anti-government protesters.
The United Nations estimates that Assad's forces have killed more than 9,000 people since the uprising began. Authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed militants who they say have killed more than 2,500 soldiers and police.

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So many Syrians have fled the violence that neighboring Turkey has begun accepting international aid to help share the cost of the caring for the nearly 25,000 refugees, including rebel fighters, who have crossed the border.
Jordan is also housing almost 100,000 Syrian refugees, many more than the UN refugee agency UNHCR has registered, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Jordan told a joint news conference in Istanbul.