Syrian Activists Say Government Troops Kill 24 in Homs Assault

Posted February 9th, 2012 at 7:00 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say government forces have continued their assault on the central city of Homs, killing at least 24 people in an escalated wave of violence against an 11-month opposition uprising.

The shelling Thursday targeted several districts in the city where activists say the government attacks have killed hundreds of people since early Saturday.

Casualty figures from the fighting could not be confirmed because Syria restricts independent reporting.

Syrian authorities have blamed armed terrorists for the revolt, and said they are responsible for several attacks in recent days including a car bombing in Homs.

China, which joined Russia in vetoing a U.N. resolution on Syria, said Thursday it wants to maintain contact and communication with Syrian opposition groups after an opposition delegation visited Beijing for talks this week.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pledged to assign his deputy to hold a dialogue with the opposition. But opposition groups have rejected talks with the government.

Meanwhile, Germany said Thursday it is expelling four diplomats from the Syrian Embassy in Berlin after authorities arrested two men suspected of spying on Syrian opposition groups in Germany.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that after the arrests Tuesday, the Syrian ambassador was summoned and told such behavior will not be tolerated in Germany. The suspects are a Syrian man and a dual German-Lebanese national.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he will consider sending a joint U.N.-Arab League team to Syria to monitor the violence.

Mr. Ban plans to consult U.N. Security Council members in the coming days on details of the proposed mission. He also said his Arab League counterpart Nabil Alaraby told him the bloc plans to send its own observers back to Syria.

The 22-member Arab League withdrew its monitors in late January to protest the Syrian government's refusal to stop the crackdown on the opposition, which is calling for an end to President Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. The observer mission had begun in December as part of an agreement with Damascus to halt the violence.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday his government is ready to host an international conference to support the Syrian people. He said the conference should be held promptly in Istanbul or in another regional country. Davutoglu spoke before leaving for Washington to meet U.S. congressional leaders and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for talks likely to focus on Syria.

Washington has been exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians in cooperation with U.S. allies. Western powers and Arab nations have said repeatedly they do not want to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict.