Smoke blankets Baba Amro as Syrian troops push back against defectors


A pall of smoke covered the Syrian town of Baba Amro, in the outskirts of the restive city of Homs, on Monday as it rose from an oil pipeline as the rest of the city was locked up and shelled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Asshad.

Witnesses who spoke to Al Arabiya TV, which aired live footage of the military operations in Bab Amro, spoke of massive destruction, indiscriminate killing and dire living conditions of residents.

One witness said that Assad’s forces have driven out families, suspected of supporting the opposition, from their homes, which were then torched or destroyed.

At least a family of six and a young girl, who was hit by gunfire from a checkpoint in the Karm al-Zeitun district of Homs were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Another civilian was killed by gunfire in Karm al-Zeitun, and one in the neighbourhood of Al-Khalidiyeh, also in Homs.

Four civilians were reportedly killed in the Qussur district, while another was hit by machinegun fire in Baba Amro and a man was shot dead by sniper fire in the city's Wadi Iran quarter.

A young man was shot dead in town of Qusseir in the Homs province, the Observatory said.

It claimed that unidentified assailants killed a doctor in Shammas, also in Homs, while the state news agency said Dr Mustapha Safar was shot dead by a "terrorist group."

Separately, rebel soldiers "attacked a minibus carrying six security officers on their way to make arrests in Hirak, killing all of the passengers," said the Observatory, in statements received in Nicosia.

The Assad's regime has intensified its assault aimed at crushing army defectors and protesters, even as the West tries to overcome Russian opposition and win a new U.N. resolution demanding a halt to Syria's crackdown on the 10-month-old uprising. Activists reported at least 29 civilians killed on Monday.

Near the capital, meanwhile, troops penetrated Rankus, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Damascus, after shelling the town which had been encircled for the past six days, the Observatory said.

The past three days, pro-Assad forces have been fighting to take back a string of suburbs on the eastern approach to Damascus where army defectors who joined the opposition had seized control.

Government troops managed on Sunday evening to take control of two of the districts closest to Damascus, Ein Tarma and Kfar Batna, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the London-based head of the Observatory.

On Monday, the regime forces were trying to take the next suburbs farther out, with heavy fighting in the districts of Saqba and Arbeen, he said.

At least five civilians were killed in the fighting near Damascus, the Observatory and LCC said. The Observatory also reported 10 army defectors and eight regime troops or security forces killed around the country.

The wide-scale offensive near the capital suggested the regime is worried that military defectors could close in on Damascus, which has remained relatively quiet while most other Syrian cities have slipped into chaos since the uprising began in March.

The violence has gradually approached the capital. In the past two weeks, army dissidents have become more visible, seizing several suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus and setting up checkpoints where masked men wearing military attire and wielding assault rifles stop motorists and protect anti-regime protests.

Their presence so close to the capital is astonishing in tightly controlled Syria and suggests the Assad regime may either be losing control or setting up a trap for the fighters before going on the offensive.

Assad's regime has blamed "terrorists" for driving the country's uprising, not protesters seeking democratic change.