110 killed in Homs offensive as U.N. chief says Arab League aims to revive Syria mission


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday the Arab League chief told him he intends to revive an Arab League monitoring mission in Syria, which has collapsed amid continuing violence there.

On Thursday, Local Coordination Committees in Syria reported that 134 people have been killed across the country, with 110 of the deaths in Homs.

"This number includes three families whose bodies were dug up from under the rubble of their homes, bodies brought to field hospitals and people who died their from their wounds today," the activist group said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby asked for U.N. help with the project during a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Ban told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on a visit he just paid to the Middle East.

Elaraby had further proposed a joint U.N.-Arab League observer mission, including a joint special envoy, for Syria, where a harsh crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising has left thousands dead, according to U.N. figures. Ban said the United Nations was ready to help, but indicated no decision had been taken.

Elaraby “informed me that he intends to send the Arab League observer mission back to Syria and asked for U.N. help,” the U.N. chief said.

The mission first went to Syria in December, reaching a strength of 165 members, but the Arab League suspended it on Jan. 28 because of worsening violence, although it did not wind it up. Six Gulf Arab states, Jordan and Morocco have pulled out their teams, but other members are still in Syria.

Elaraby told Reuters in an interview in Cairo on Monday that a new mission could be sent but under different terms and with more members.

“If we are going to send another mission, and we are contemplating that, it has to be stronger in numbers and in equipment. The mandate has to be different,” he said, adding it would need international not just Arab backing this time.

Arab foreign ministers have been planning to meet on Sunday to discuss the fate of the monitoring mission. It was not immediately clear whether the plan to revive the mission would go ahead anyway.

Ban said that “in the coming days we will further consult the (Security) Council before fleshing out details. We stand ready to assist in any way that will contribute towards improvement on the ground and to the overall situation.”

“No detailed discussions have taken place yet. We will have to discuss with the Arab League on detailed matters,” he said later in reply to questions.

Ban did not say what help the United Nations might give. U.N. diplomats and officials have spoken in the past of possible training of monitors.

Elaraby said this week any new monitoring mission would require Syria’s approval.

A Security Council diplomat said discussion of any U.N. involvement was at an early stage. “I think what we would want to see would be a mission that was really making a difference, not just standing by and watching people being killed,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified.

If we are going to send another mission, and we are contemplating that, it has to be stronger in numbers and in equipment. The mandate has to be different

Nabil Elaraby, Arab League chief

Homs bombardment continues

Armored reinforcements poured into Homs as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces bombarded the Syrian city for a fourth day, opposition sources said on Thursday, worsening the humanitarian situation and prompting a new diplomatic push from Turkey.

They said the bombardments centred on the Baba Amro, Inshaat, Khalidiya, al-Bayyada and Jouret al-Shayyah districts of the city of one million people.

Earlier, the British-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 people had been killed in Baba Amro and another in Khalidiya.

In the afternoon, the Syrian Revolution Council said that the Assad forces were shelling Baba Amro from helicopters, thereby intensifying the offensive against Homs.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters before flying to Washington for talks on Syria that Turkey, which once saw Assad as a valuable ally but now wants him out, could no longer stand by and watch.

He said Turkey wanted to host an international meeting to agree ways to end the killing and provide aid.

“It is not enough being an observer,” he said. “It is time now to send a strong message to the Syrian people that we are with them,” he added, while refusing to be drawn on what kind of action Turkey or its allies would be prepared to consider.

Scores were killed in Homs on Wednesday, according to the opposition, drawing comparison with the plight of the city of Benghazi which triggered Western attacks on Libya last year and accelerating a global diplomatic showdown whose outcome is far from clear.

Activists said that at least 40 tanks and 50 infantry fighting vehicles accompanied by 1,000 soldiers were transported from the nearby border with Lebanon and from the coast and deployed in Homs.

There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, who have placed tight restrictions on access to the country and it was not possible to verify the reports.

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition intensified calls for international intervention to protect civilians. Activist-in-exile Massoud Akko said Turkey and Western countries needed to organize an airlift to Homs and other stricken cities and towns that have borne the brunt of five months of a sustained military crackdown to put down a mass protest movement against Assad’s rule.

“What the people of Homs need right now is basic supplies such as medicine and baby food. This could be done by air drops into Homs similar to what the United States did in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s,” Akko said.

“It is not enough to say to this regime ‘stop the killings,’ because it won’t listen. We are dealing with a system based on political prostitution. The regime is acting as if it is not attacking Homs at all and says the bombardment the whole world is seeing is being done by terrorists.”

A statement by the Syrian Revolution General Commission activists’ group said friendly countries should call for “an immediate halt to the shelling of cities and residential neighborhoods,” establish safe corridors to supply humanitarian assistance to stricken regions and support the Free Syrian Army.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday decried the “outrageous bloodshed” in Syria as government forces launched a deadly blitz on the protest city of Homs.

In comments after White House talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Obama also reiterated calls for Assad to leave power.

“We both have a great interest in ending the outrageous bloodshed that we’ve seen and see a transition from the current government that has been assaulting its people,” Obama said.

What the people of Homs need right now is basic supplies such as medicine and baby food. This could be done by air drops into Homs similar to what the United States did in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s

Massoud Akko, Syrian activist-in-exile

EU to impose harsher sanctions

The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence.

In Brussels, a senior EU official said the 27-nation bloc will soon impose harsher sanctions against Syria as it seeks to weaken Assad’s regime.

The official said the new measures may include bans on the import of Syrian phosphates, on commercial flights between Syria and Europe, and on financial transactions with the country's central bank. The European Union imports 40 percent of Syria’s phosphate exports.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with EU rules, said some measures would be adopted at the EU foreign ministers meeting on Feb. 27. But he stressed the nature of the measures to be adopted remained unclear since the ministers are concerned over the impact on the Syrian public.

Libyan support

Libya has ordered that Syria’s charge d’affaires and his staff in Tripoli leave the country within 72 hours, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) officially recognized the Syrian opposition council in October as the legitimate authority in Syria after months of unrest against Assad.

“Libya had hoped that the U.N. Security Council could adopt the resolution ... to help the Syrian people live in freedom and dignity,” the statement said.