'More than 200' killed in Homs ahead of UN resolution vote
Issued on: Modified:
Syrian activists say almost 200 people were killed during heavy shelling by security forces in the flashpoint city of Homs, a day before a crucial UN vote Saturday on a resolution that Russia has repeatedly threatened to veto.
AFP - Dazed and shocked residents of the battered Syrian protest hub of Homs emerged from their homes on Saturday after a night of terror to search the rubble for loved ones.
Thousands of people flooded the streets of the flashpoint central city to bury more than 200 civilians who were killed in a barrage of mortar rounds and tank shells fired by regime forces, witnesses said.
"Nearly 200 martyrs will be buried in Freedom Park," activist Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution told AFP in a telephone call from Homs.
He said thousands of people joined funeral processions in Khalidiyeh, the hardest-hit neighbourhood in Homs and a hub of more than 10 months of anti-regime protests.
"The bombardment stopped this morning, and residents emerged to look for the dead and wounded in the debris," said Abdullah.
"The regular forces can't enter those districts outside their control, but surround them with a large number of tanks," he added.
Abdullah spoke of "very violent" shelling that "totally destroyed some buildings" and said hospitals have been overwhelmed by the number of wounded and were running out of medical supplies.
He accused the Syrian authorities of unleashing a torrent of firepower on Homs "in order to gain time and terrify the Syrian people and force them to suspend the peaceful (anti-regime) protests."
Ahead of a key vote on a UN resolution on Syrian unrest, Moscow says it remains concerned about two "crucial" problems with the draft.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that the draft text does not make enough demands on the armed militias agitating against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Russia also opposes language expressing the Security Council's "full" support for an Arab League call for Assad to step down, saying it presupposes the outcome of any future national dialogue among Syria's political players.
Lavrov's comments, which came on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, followed a reworking of the draft text on Thursday that was designed to avoid a threatened Russian veto.
It was not clear what triggered the violence in Homs, where activists said regime forces committed a "horrific massacre" despite staunch denials from the Syrian government that its forces had attacked the city.
Damascus blamed the opposition for inciting unrest ahead of a vote expected later on Saturday at the UN Security Council on the lethal regime crackdown on democracy protesters.
Opposition groups put the death toll at between 217 and at least 260. If confirmed, the violence would be the deadliest since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in mid-March.
The "Assad regime committed one of the most horrific massacres since the beginning of the uprising in Syria," and killed "at least 260 civilians" in the Homs bombardment, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said.
"It's a real massacre," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, calling for the "immediate intervention" of the Arab League.
The Observatory said its count was at least 217 dead and several hundred wounded in Homs.
Al-Jazeera television said witnesses spoke of nail bombs raining down and incessant shelling, while one resident, Danny Abdul Ayem, reported "non-stop bombardment... by tank shells and mortar bombs."
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the SNC, called Saturday for an international probe into the "heinous massacre perpetrated in Homs" and for those responsible to be brought before the International Criminal Court.
"Assad has transformed Homs into a real battlefield, waging a war of extermination against his own people," Brotherhood spokesman Zuhair Salem said in a statement.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe