Syrian Forces Renew Attacks as Diplomatic Efforts Continue

Posted February 9th, 2012 at 11:10 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian government forces continued their attacks on several rebellious areas across the country Thursday, including the embattled central city of Homs, as divided world powers struggled to end the escalating crackdown against an 11-month opposition uprising.

The ferocious shelling in Homs erupted at dawn, leaving at least 57 dead, and targeting Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and other largely Sunni Muslim districts protected by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Activists say that hundreds have died since the offensive began early Saturday. Several neighborhoods are reportedly without water and electricity and basic supplies are running low.

VOA spoke with an activist in Homs who said government attacks are not letting up and that even walking one block can be deadly. “Everyday is worse than the day before,” he said of the assault, “more deaths, more injured, more destroyed buildings.” He said hospitals are overflowing with the wounded.

Continued violence was also reported Thursday in Zabadani and Daraa. Casualty figures from the fighting could not be confirmed because Syria restricts independent reporting.

Sectarian divisions have been rising as killings have increased on both sides of the conflict. Pro-government forces are led by members of President Bashar al-Assad's Shi'ite Alawite minority. Syrian authorities have blamed armed terrorists for the revolt, and said they are responsible for several attacks in recent days.

United Nations 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 told him the bloc plans to send its own observers back to Syria.

The 22-member league withdrew its monitors in late January to protest the Syrian government's continued crackdown on protesters calling for an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. The observer mission had begun in December as part of an agreement with Damascus to halt the violence.

President Assad has pledged to assign his deputy to hold a dialogue with the opposition, but such groups have rejected talks with the government.

The Associated Press reported a senior Arab League official as saying the Cairo-based organization will discuss Sunday whether to recognize the opposition Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of Syria and allow it to open offices in Arab capitals.

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. China, which joined Russia in vetoing a U.N. resolution on Syria, said Thursday it wants to maintain contact with Syrian activists after an opposition delegation visited Beijing last week. Moscow, a staunch ally of Damascus, has insisted any solution to end the bloodshed must come from within Syria.

Turkey says its government is ready to host an international conference to support the Syrian people, either in Istanbul or another regional country. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is in 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.