Attacks in Syria's Homs resume after Russian foray

Tanks, soldiers reported pushing deep into Homs, where over 100 people have been killed in military bombardments in recent days.

Syria tank Homs 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syria tank Homs 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Armored forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad thrust deeper into the central city of Homs on Wednesday, firing rockets and mortar rounds to subdue opposition districts, activists said, a day after Russia said Assad wants peace.
Tanks entered the Inshaat neighborhood and moved closer to Bab Amro district, which has been the target of the heaviest barrages by loyalist troops that have killed at least 100 civilians in the last two days, activists said.
"Tanks are now at Qubab mosque and soldiers have entered Hikmeh hospital in Inshaat. They also moved closer to Bab Amro and shelling is being heard on Karm al-Zeitoun and al-Bayada," activist Mohammad al-Hassan said by satellite phone from Homs.
"Communications have been cut in many parts of Homs and it is difficult to put together an overall picture. But tanks are in main thoroughfares in the city and appear poised to push deep into residential areas," he added.
The attacks on Homs continued despite Russia winning a promise from Assad to bring an end to bloodshed, while Western and Arab states acted to further isolate Assad following the onslaught on the city, one of the bloodiest of the 11-month uprising.
The official state news agency said "armed terrorist groups" attacked police roadblocks in Homs and fired mortar bombs at the city, with three falling on the Homs oil refinery, one of two in the country. It gave no details of any damage.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing a rare ally on a trip to the Syrian capital, said on Tuesday that both countries wanted to revive a monitoring effort by the Arab League, whose plan to resolve Syria's crisis was vetoed by Moscow and Beijing in the UN Security Council.
Lavrov - whose government wields unique leverage as a major arms supplier with longstanding political ties to Damascus, and maintains a naval facility on its coast - told Assad that peace was in Russia's interests.
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But there was no indication from Lavrov's comments that the issue of Assad eventually giving up power - a central element of the Arab proposal that failed in the UN - had been raised.
Assad said he would cooperate with any plan that stabilized Syria, but made clear that only included an earlier Arab League proposal that called for dialogue, release of prisoners and withdrawing the army from protest centres.
Bombardment 30 km from Damascus
Tank bombardment also was reported on Zabadani, a town of 20,000 people 30 kms (19 miles) northwest of Damascus. The town is nestled in the foothills of mountains separating Syria from Lebanon, where armed resistance to Assad's rule has been among the fiercest in the country of 21 million.
Two people were killed in the bombardment on Tuesday, bringing the total killed in Zabadani in the past two days to at least 10, activists said. State media said "four specialist force were killed in the Zabadani Plain in Damascus countryside... and the clash resulted in the killing of a number of terrorists."
An estimated 150 tanks and thousands of troops launched an offensive on Zabadani last week following a withdrawal by Assad's forces last month as a result of a truce reached by Assad's brother-in-law and town notables.
Opposition leaders say the bloodshed means it is too late for Assad to offer compromises and it is time to dismantle the 50-year-old police state dominated by members of his Alawite sect that keeps him in power.
"It is impossible for Assad to govern after bombarding his own cities and towns. He is escalating the use of his military might either to sink Syria into chaos or to improve his negotiating position," opposition leader-in-exile Kamal al-Labwani told Reuters.
"Militarily he cannot win. The bombardment has killed mainly civilians. The fighters in Homs and other cities have been slipping away but they will be back. Assad's forces can enter Bab Amro or Zabadani, but they cannot stay there long before receiving painful hits," he added.
Labwani said Moscow will either mediate a transitional military council to replace Assad, similar to the way President Hosni Mubarak gave up power in Egypt, or help Assad set up a coastal enclave for his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam in the majority Sunni Muslim country.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said its members were recalling their ambassadors from Damascus and expelling Syrian envoys from their own capitals, in response to surging violence.
European Union states followed up their denunciation of the UN veto by preparing a new round of sanctions on Syria, EU diplomats said on Tuesday, with the focus on central bank assets and trade in precious metals, gold and diamonds.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an ex-ally who has turned against Assad, described the UN vetoes as "a fiasco for the civilized world" and said Ankara was preparing a new initiative with those who oppose the Syrian government.