Watchdog says over 32000 killed in Syria conflict army steps up bid to crush Homs

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September saw at least 4,727 people killed, including 305 on the 26th -- the bloodiest single day since the conflict began, said the Observatory. The highest monthly toll came in August, when the watchdog recorded 5,440 deaths.

The Observatory’s civilian toll includes non-military defectors who have taken up arms against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

But the tallies do not count the many unidentified victims of the bloody conflict, nor do they account for thousands of people missing and thought to be in detention.

They also exclude thousands of pro-regime militiamen, Abdul Rahman said.

The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics in Syria for its information.

The revolt began as pro-reform protests but morphed into an armed insurgency when demonstrations were brutally crushed. Most rebels, like the population, are Sunni in a country dominated by a minority Alawite regime. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Meanwhile, Abdul Basset Sayda, the head of the main opposition Syrian National Council, entered the country on Monday for the first time since assuming his post in June, rebel sources said.

Sayda paid a visit to the town of Bab al-Hawa in the northwestern province of Idlib, on the border with Turkey, where he met several leaders of the rebel Free Syrian Army, the sources said.

Among the rebel commanders taking part were the military council chiefs for Idlib province and for neighboring Aleppo province -- scene of fierce fighting since July in the city of the same name, Syria’s second city and commercial capital.

Sayda was accompanied on his visit to rebel-held territory by several other SNC members and by General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the highest-ranking Syrian army officer to have defected to the opposition.

The visit came as the exiled opposition said it was planning a major makeover to address concerns about its representativeness. SNC member Louay al-Safi told AFP that the group would unveil the changes at a meeting in the Qatari capital Doha next week.

Last month, the SNC agreed to expand to include more opposition groups, but not the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which favors non-violent regime change and opposes foreign military intervention in Syria.

Also on Monday, the Syrian army pressed an offensive against rebel-held areas of the central province of Homs, seeking to eliminate the last pockets of resistance to free up troops for the north.

The assault targeted two neighborhoods of Homs city where rebel forces have been under siege for more than four months, and the nearby town of Qusayr which has been surrounded by the army since late last year, sources on both sides said.

“The army is in the midst of trying to cleanse the last rebel districts of the city of Homs,” a Syrian army commander told AFP.

“The army has already cleansed the villages surrounding Qusayr, and is now trying to take back the town itself,” the commander said on condition of anonymity.

Homs province has suffered some of the worst bloodshed and destruction of the uprising which erupted against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March last year as the army has mounted repeated attempts to recapture rebel-held areas.

The province’s porous border with northern Lebanon makes it strategically important -- the rebels have used ties to sympathizers over the frontier to smuggle supplies in and wounded fighters out, while the army has sought to block the supply lines.

Homs is Syria’s third largest city and the army’s assault focused on the rebel-held Khalidyeh and Old City neighborhoods, activists said.

“The army is using all kinds of weapons, and we are seeing enormous levels of destruction,” an Old City-based activist who identified himself as Abu Bilal told AFP by Internet.

“Right now, there is still resistance from the (rebel) fighters, but if the army manages to enter the district, there will be a real massacre.”

The government deployed fighter jets over Homs for the first time on Friday, bombing Khaldiyeh, the Observatory said.

In Qusayr, a town just five kilometers (three miles) southwest of Homs, activists said troops were attacking from three sides.

“The army is trying to storm Qusayr from three entrances to the town,” Qusayr-based activist Hadi al-Abdallah told AFP via the Internet.

“The situation here is bad. The shelling is very, very violent,” he said.

State television said the army had “restored security” to the village of al-Atifiyeh, just outside Qusayr. “It has also killed many terrorists,” it added, using the government's term for rebel fighters.

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