Syrian pounding of Homs ‘most violent’ so far, prevents evacuation, relief efforts


Residents in Homs were “waiting to die of hunger or bombardment,” as government forces carried out their heaviest pounding of the central protest city in the past 14 days, an activist reached by telephone told Al Arabiya on Friday.

Hadi Abdullah, of the opposition General Commission of the Syrian Revolution, said there were three shelters in the town which could no longer accommodate people fleeing their homes every day in fear that they could fall victims of indiscriminate bombardment.

He said incessant bombing and shooting were preventing the evacuation and relief efforts in the city.

Earlier, Abdullah told AFP that that Syrian security forces carried out their heaviest pounding of the central protest city of Homs in the past 14 days on Friday.

“It’s the most violent in 14 days. It’s unbelievable - extreme violence the like of which we have never seen before, with an average of four rockets every minute,” Abdullah said.

The latest bombardment comes after the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday demanded an immediate halt to Syria’s brutal crackdown on dissent, which human rights groups say has claimed more than 6,000 lives over the past 11 months.

At the assembly 137 states voted in favour, 12 voted against and 17 abstained on Thursday on the non-binding resolution endorsing the Arab League plan. Russia and China voted against, after vetoing a similar text in the Security Council on Feb. 4.

Unlike Council resolutions, assembly votes have no legal force. “Today the U.N. General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria - the world is with you,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said in a statement.

“Bashar al-Assad has never been more isolated.”

Assad has intensified a crackdown on protesters and insurgents, while also proposing a Feb. 26 referendum on a draft constitution that would formally end his Baath Party’s monopoly on power, followed by a multi-party parliamentary election.

Syria’s opposition and Western powers have dismissed the promised reforms. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said crimes against humanity had almost definitely been committed in Syria.

“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity,” he told reporters in Austria on Thursday.

Thousands of civilians have been killed by Syrian security forces since the uprising began last March. The government says more than 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed by foreign-backed “terrorists”.

Ban later had talks with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe during which the U.N. leader said the top priorities were to stop the violence and establish humanitarian access, a U.N. statement said. He said all relevant U.N. agencies were coordinating efforts to provide relief to the Syrian people.

China said it was sending a senior envoy to Syria.

“(China) does not approve of the use of force to interfere in Syria or the forceful pushing of a so-called regime change,” Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said.

Zhai, who will visit Syria on Friday, said China believed “sanctions or the threat of sanctions are not conducive to the appropriate resolution of this issue.”

Juppe said agreement at the Security Council was possible with Russia to halt the bloodshed, and that France was ready to work on a new resolution to provide humanitarian aid to Syrians.