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Middle east

Syrian forces pound Homs after UN condemnation

©

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-02-17

Syrian troops have fired a barrage of shells at rebel-held neighbourhoods in the city of Homs, activists said Friday, a day after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution backing an Arab League plan for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

AFP - Syrian forces unleashed their heaviest pounding of Homs in two weeks on Friday, activists said after the UN General Assembly backed an Arab initiative calling on President Bashar al-Assad to stand down.

Rockets crashed into Khaldiyeh and Bayyada, centres of resistance in the central protest hub, at the rate of four a minute, according to an opposition activist inside the beleaguered city.

"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," Hadi Abdullah of the opposition General Commission of the Syrian Revolution.

"In addition to the districts of Baba Amr and Inshaat, Khaldiyeh and Bayyada were pounded on Friday, but the shelling of these neighbourhoods was not as intense as in recent days," he told AFP in Beirut by phone from inside Homs.

The activist said that an "unprecedented" number of military planes and surveillance aircraft were overflying Homs.

Footage of the assault showed a tank firing on Homs, according to a video posted by activists on video-sharing website YouTube.

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

In a strongly worded resolution adopted by a 137-12 vote, UN member states demanded that Assad's government stop attacking civilian demonstrators and start pulling its troops back to barracks.

The resolution calls on Damascus "to stop all violence or reprisals immediately, in accordance with the League of Arab States initiative."

It was referring to a peace plan put forward by the pan-Arab bloc calling on Assad to hand power over to his deputy and for the formation of a unity government ahead of elections.

Russia, China and Iran opposed the largely symbolic text put forward by Arab states with Western support just days after Beijing and Moscow vetoed a similar resolution in the UN Security Council.

Such a strong vote in favour of the resolution adds to mounting pressure on Assad to curb a crackdown that left at least 41 people dead on Thursday in fresh bloodshed as security forces bore down on focal points of dissent.

Egypt's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Osama Abdelkhalek, said the General Assembly had sent an "unambiguous message" to Damascus: "It is high time to listen to the voice of the people."

But his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Jaafari, lashed out at other Arab nations, saying Western powers had exploited the Arab League to "internationalise" the crisis.

"The Arab Trojan horse has been unmasked today," he said. Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khazaee warned the resolution would only deepen the crisis, "with all its ramifications to the region as a whole."

Amnesty International said the resolution sends "a clear and unequivocal message" that the violence must end.

"The vote sends a clear and unequivocal message from the international community to Syria to immediately end the brutal assault against innocent people," said a statement by Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty's Head of UN Office.

"Crimes against humanity are taking place in Syria. Whilst Russia and a handful of states continue to shield Syria the result of today's vote shows they are increasingly isolated."

Meanwhile, a human rights lawyer said blogger Razan Ghazzawi, a figurehead of the 11-month uprising against Assad's regime, had been arrested, along with prominent human rights activist Mazen Darwish, his wife and 11 others.

The lawyer, Anwar Bunni, said Ghazzawi was arrested in a raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, which is in central Damascus and headed by Darwish.

"We at the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies condemn these arrests and call on Syrian authorities to immediately release them," said Bunni in a statement echoed by Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

On Thursday, the opposition in Syria rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule and urged voters to boycott a February 26 referendum on the charter.

The Local Coordination Committees, a main opposition activist group, called for a boycott of the vote and for stepped-up efforts to oust Assad.

"The draft constitution is no more than a political tool or a policy paper written by the barbaric regime," it said. "We see no alternative but to topple the regime."

The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, another opposition group, said it also planned to boycott the vote.

"It is impossible for us to take part in this referendum before a stop to the violence and killings," its leader Hassan Abdel Azim told AFP.

 

Date created : 2012-02-17

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