Syrian Activists Say Shelling Resumes in Homs

Posted February 7th, 2012 at 5:05 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say heavy shelling has resumed in the protest hub of Homs, a day after nearly 100 civilians were killed across the country in a crackdown on a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Activists said the bombardment Tuesday was focused on the Baba Amr district. It marks the fourth day of a government assault that began with what the activists say was a massacre of at least 200 residents late Friday into Saturday.

Syrian state news agency SANA blames the violence on “armed terrorists.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Damascus Tuesday for talks with Mr. Assad. His visit follows a veto by Russia and China of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria.

China said Tuesday it hopes the talks can be productive, and that it is considering sending its own envoys to region in a bid to help resolve the crisis in Syria.

Meanwhile, the United States closed its embassy in Syria and pulled all remaining diplomats out of the country.

The State Department says Ambassador Robert Ford and other diplomatic staff left Damascus for the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Monday, leaving Poland to provide emergency consular services to Americans in Syria. It said Mr. Assad's government “failed to respond adequately” to U.S. concerns about worsening security around the downtown embassy.

But U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Aaron Snipe told VOA that diplomatic ties remain open with the Assad government and the Syrian people.

“Ambassador Ford still remains the United States Ambassador to Syria and his people, and though he will now be based in Washington, he will continue engaging with the Syrian people and supporting the Syrian people in whatever way we can, just from here in Washington.”

He also said that in vetoing the Security Council resolution, Russia and China voted on the side of a leader now “further emboldened to commit heinous crimes against his people.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he is “appalled” by the Syrian government's assault on Homs, calling it “unacceptable before humanity.” In a written statement, he said Russia and China's veto last Saturday gives “no license” to Damascus to step up attacks on the population. He said no government can commit such acts “without its legitimacy being eroded.”

The Western and Arab-backed draft resolution would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Mr. Assad to step aside, a key demand of the Syrian opposition, which has been waging an 11-month uprising against the Syrian leader's autocratic rule. Russia and China said they vetoed the measure because they perceived it as taking sides in a domestic conflict and providing a possible pretext for foreign military intervention.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday he believes the Syrian crisis can be resolved without military intervention. He vowed to keep up the pressure on Mr. Assad through sanctions and diplomacy.

Syrian army defectors Monday announced the formation of a military council to “liberate” the country from Mr. Assad's rule. The group, based in neighboring Turkey, named the head of “The Higher Revolutionary Council” as General Mustafa Ahmed al-Sheikh, the highest ranking officer to have defected so far.

Syria's opposition uprising has escalated in recent months into open conflict between rebels and pro-Assad forces. Last month, the United Nations estimated the death toll from the unrest at 5,400 before it stopped updating the figure because of difficulties in obtaining information.

Casualty figures cannot be independently confirmed because Syria restricts independent reporting.