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Middle east

Activists call for strike amid fears of Homs assault

Video by Catherine Nicholson

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-12-11

Syrian activists reported Sunday that a general strike was being observed in Damascus and other regions to step up the pressure on the regime as fears grew of an impending assault on the besieged city of Homs.

AFP - A general strike was being observed on Sunday in several regions of Syria to step up the pressure on the regime, activists said, as fears grew of an "invasion" of the besieged protest hub of Homs.

In the latest bloodshed, two civilians were killed by heavy machinegun fire in Kfar Takharim, in Idlib province bordering Turkey, where deserters and troops fought heavy clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Two troop transports were set ablaze, it said.

Elsewhere, a 16-year-old boy was killed as security forces opened fire in Tafas, in Daraa province of southern Syria, where three armoured cars were set ablaze and several people were wounded in a similar confrontation.

Medics in Lebanon said Hussein Ammar, 27, died in hospital in northern Lebanon of a gunshot wound to the head after having been evacuated across the border.

And a doctor for the rebels in Syria, Ibrahim Osman, was fatally wounded as security forces fired into the air on Saturday along the border with Turkey, according to activists.

The casualties raised to around 60 the number of people reported killed since Friday.

The general strike was being "very widely observed" in Daraa province, cradle of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad that broke out in mid-March.

The Observatory said shops also kept their shutters down in most parts of Jebel al-Zawiya, another town in Idlib, on Sunday, the start of the working week.

In towns near the capital, security forces tried to open shops by force and carried out arrests, said the rights watchdog and other activists. But "90 percent" of businesses in Douma, in the Damascus area, were closed.

The Observatory said schoolchildren and civil servants stayed at home, although life carried on as normal in central districts of Damascus. "The strike was observed 100 percent" in several districts of Homs.

In the wake of the general strike, activists are planning a campaign of civil disobedience to shut down universities, public transport, the civil service and major highways.

The opposition Syrian National Council and activists, meanwhile, have warned of a looming bloody final assault on Homs.

Witnesses in Homs, besieged by government troops, have reported a buildup of troops and pro-regime "shabiha" militiamen in armoured vehicles who have set up more than 60 checkpoints, the SNC said.

The Syrian Observatory warned of "inhabitants' fears of a large invasion of the city," in a statement issued on Saturday.

"The arrival of hundreds of armoured vehicles to the city of Homs during the last two weeks estimated, according to witnesses," to number more than 200, the Britain-based rights watchdog said in the English-language statement.

The United States, France and Britain have all warned Damascus against any bloody assault on Homs.

The bloodshed, meanwhile, continues to claim more lives, with the Observatory saying at least 41 civilians, seven of them children, were shot dead by security forces Friday, most of them in the Damascus region and Homs.

And at least 14 civilians were reported killed on Saturday.

In an interview to be published Monday in Germany's Der Spiegel, SNC chief Burhan Ghaliun ruled out negotiations with the regime but said he was open to talks with civilian and military officials not representing the authorities.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, who has said more than 4,000 people have been killed in the government crackdown on dissent, is to brief the UN Security Council on Syria at a meeting on Monday.

Against the backdrop of the deadly unrest, the government was preparing for municipal elections on Monday and called for a large turnout.

Assad refuses to let investigators from two UN human rights inquiries enter Syria and is resisting Arab League calls to accept monitors despite being hit by regional sanctions on top of US and EU measures.

Syria, which blames the violence on armed "terrorist" gangs, wants the bloc to lift sanctions in return for allowing in observers.

A League official said Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency session on Syria by the end of this week in Cairo, following a smaller meeting of a ministerial task force.


Date created : 2011-12-11

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