Syrian troops resume crackdown operations as rebel army warns of new massacre in Homs


Syrian government forces resumed their military operations against the city of Deir Ezzor on Monday, activists at the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) told Al Arabiya, amid warning of a possible massacre in Homs.

As many as 82 people have been killed by the fire of government forces, mostly in Aleppo and Deir Ezzor on Sunday, activists said.

Activists told Al Arabiya that the government forces warned all residents of the city of al-Harak in Deraa to hand over all the “wanted” members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), or they will destroy all their houses.

In the city of Aleppo, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shot at protesters in Salah Eddin neighborhood as they launched a campaign of arrests among descents.

The city of al-Houla, in Damascus suburbs, was exposed to intensive shelling by artillery and tanks along with random shooting, Al Arabiya reported citing activists.

Heavy clashes, meanwhile, were reported between the government forces and the rebel army in Deir Ezzor.

On Monday, at least 55 people have been killed by Syrian security force gunfire, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

FSA General Mustapha al-Sheikh warned against the possibility that the Syrian government forces were planning another massacre in Homs. In his statement, he blamed the international community for what was happening in the city.

Meanwhile, a Saudi humanitarian aid convoy reached Amman to aid the Syrian refugee families in Jordan. He convoy consists of 13 trucks of food products donated by the Saudi businessmen. The aid products will be distributed among the Syrian refugees by the Saudi Red Crescent Authority in collaboration the Jordanian Red Crescent Society.

Syrians denied access to Jordan

Al Arabiya, meanwhile, cited witnesses as saying that the Jordanian authorities had blocked scores of Syrians from entering the country on Sunday.

“After their arrival to Queen Alia International Airport, around 50 Syrians were blocked from entering without any explanation,” a witness told Al Arabiya.

“The Jordanian authorities granted some of the travellers return tickets,” he added, pointing out that earlier this month a number of Syrians were forced to return to Damascus after reaching Jordan, while the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Jouda commented by saying that they were denied entrance to the country “due to security reasons.”

More than 15,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since the outbreak of the revolt against the Assad rule in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The United Nations put the figure at 10,000 people.

Turkish cabinet to meet over downed jet

On Sunday, Turkey has accused Syria of shooting down one of its military reconnaissance jets in international airspace without warning and summoned a NATO meeting for Tuesday to agree a response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey’s cabinet was due to meet on Monday to discuss Friday’s incident, which lent a more threatening international dimension to the 16-month-old uprising against Assad. Britain called the attack over the eastern Mediterranean outrageous and said it stood ready to back strong action in the United Nations.

Turkish newspapers welcomed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to invoke an article in the NATO alliance’s founding treaty providing for urgent consultations if a member considered its security interests threatened, according to Reuters.

The intensification of the fighting inside Syria has raised fears in Turkey of a flood of refugees and a slide into ethnic and religious warfare that could envelop the region. Ankara, like the West, is torn between a wish to remove Assad and the fear that any armed intervention could unleash uncontrollable forces.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the attack “brazen and unacceptable” and said Washington would cooperate closely with Ankara to promote a transition in Syria. Spanish government sources said European Union foreign ministers would also discuss the incident at a Luxembourg meeting on Monday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday said Syria’s downing of a Turkish military jet was “unacceptable.”

“This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight ... there was no prior warning,” Fabius said. “This is completely unacceptable.”

While Turkish newspapers have railed against Assad, Erdogan, not always known for his emotional restraint, has eschewed bellicose rhetoric.

Seeking the help of NATO

The prime minister, who turned against former ally Assad bitterly after he refused his advice to bow to demands for democratic reform, seemed to back away from any suggestion of an armed response. If he sought some kind of retaliation from the NATO meeting set for Tuesday, he could have invoked another article on mutual defense. That he did not suggests the reaction will remain at least for now on the diplomatic stage.

The foreign ministry said Turkey knew where the wreckage of the RF-4 Phantom jet lay, 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) under water, but had not yet found it. Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the search continued for the two crew members.

He said the jet had been clearly marked as Turkish and dismissed Syria's assertion it had not identified the aircraft, flying low and very fast, before opening fire.

Some analysts said the aircraft could have been testing Syria’s Russian-supplied radar and air defenses, which would be an obstacle to any possible Western armed action.

Russia, which along with Iran is Damascus’s chief ally, has provided most of Syria’s arms and has access to a deep water naval base in the country.

Davutoglu said he planned to set out Turkey's case to the U.N. Security Council where Western powers are seeking, against Russian and Chinese opposition, to push through a motion that could allow stronger measures against Assad.

Moscow has made clear it would continue to veto such a move, which it fears could undermine its interests in Syria and wreak anarchy. That apparent inevitability forces the focus for any stronger action on NATO.

As if to underline its military reach, Turkey's military announced that over the last three days it had carried out air strikes in northern Iraq against nine bases for Kurdish militants fighting for greater autonomy in southeastern Turkey.