Syrian Security Forces Launch Ground Assault in Homs

Posted February 29th, 2012 at 6:35 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian security forces have launched a ground assault on the besieged city of Homs, where witnesses say more than three weeks of bombardment has killed hundreds of people and left residents desperately short of food, water and medical supplies.

The fighting Wednesday was reported in the rebel-held Baba Amr district of Homs. Rights activists said Tuesday the Syrian military sent troops and tanks into the city in apparent preparation for a final assault on Baba Amr.

On Tuesday, a senior United Nations official said President Bashar al-Assad's deadly crackdown on the nearly year-long opposition uprising has killed “well over 7,500” people.

U.N. political chief Lynn Pascoe said he has “credible reports” from Syria of more than 100 civilians being killed every day, “including many women and children.”

“The international commission of inquiry for Syria, in a report issued 22 February, concluded that the Syrian government forces have committed widespread systematic and gross human rights violation amounting to crimes against humanity with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the state. I commend this report to each of the members of this council. It does not make easy reading, but its implications for our responsibility are clear.”

France said Tuesday diplomats have begun drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate end to violence in Syria so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to communities under weeks of government assault.

China also issued calls for a humanitarian response and a halt to fighting.

Russia and China have twice vetoed Western- and Arab-backed council resolutions that would have condemned Damascus for its deadly crackdown. Diplomats say Western powers and their Arab partners hope that focusing a new resolution on Syria's humanitarian situation will make it difficult for Moscow and Beijing to cast a third veto.

Amin Saikal, director of the Center of Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, told VOA there is a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the making, and that without international action the crisis in Syria will go on.

“Well, I think as long as the Syrian regime has the support of Russia and China, and as long as the United Nations Security Council is paralyzed to do anything about the situation in Syria, you can expect the Syrian regime to continue its oppression of the opposition.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that al-Qaida and other militants are taking advantage of the situation in Syria, and that now is not the time to “further militarize the situation.”

“We are working, rather, with our allies, through the 'Friends of Syria,' to isolate and pressure Assad, and to try to get him to realize that his days are numbered and to cease the brutality that he's been waging against his own people.”

Syrian officials blame the uprising on foreign-backed armed “terrorists” who the government says have killed more than 2,000 security personnel. The revolt against Mr. Assad's autocratic rule has become increasingly militarized in recent months with Syrian army defectors joining a loosely-organized rebel force.

The new death toll provided by the U.N. Tuesday represents an increase of 2,100 from the figure it gave last month.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said a humanitarian cease-fire must be declared in Syria immediately to stop “serious rights abuses” by security forces against civilians. She made the plea at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. Syrian envoy Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui walked out of the session in protest.