Refugees Flee As Syria Continues Crackdown

Posted March 6th, 2012 at 5:55 am (UTC-5)
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Syrians fleeing to nearby Lebanon say they feared being slaughtered if they remained in the restive city of Homs, as government military forces continued their offensive against anti-government rebels.

The United Nations refugee agency said Monday that as many as 2,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon in recent days to flee the violence.

Refugees from the northern town of Qusair, in Idlib province, said government tanks shelled houses full of people.

Syrian forces also bombed the rebellious city of Rastan, in Homs province, for a second straight day Monday. Activists say that town could be the government's next target, following its month-long assault on Homs.

Meanwhile, China's former ambassador to Syria is traveling to Damascus for talks on a political solution to the crisis.

The visit follows a call by U.S. Senator John McCain to use air strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces to “establish and defend save havens in Syria.” McCain said the United States should lead an international effort focusing on creating areas in northern Syria where opposition forces can plan “political and military activities against Mr. Assad.”

But Middle East analyst Stephen Zunes told VOA that such international intervention would benefit the Mr. Assad's government.

“Clearly there needs to be international pressure to enable humanitarian goods to get in, however military intervention would just justify greater brutality by the Syrian regime. And further, armed resistance gives the regime an excuse to open up its firepower even more on these crowded urban areas, which would lead to even greater civilian casualties.”

He said countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen provide a model for addressing the crisis using massive non-cooperation by the population and targeted international sanctions.

The Syrian government has agreed to visits this week from former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, the new special envoy to Syria, and U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

Annan goes to Damascus Saturday and Amos said she will arrive in the capital on Wednesday. She said she will urge “all parties” to give aid workers “unhindered access” in delivering supplies to people affected by the violence and evacuating the wounded.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch estimates the 26-day government assault on the Baba Amr district of Homs killed about 700 people. Rights groups say the situation in the district is dire, with residents struggling to find food, water and medical supplies in freezing temperatures. Mr. Assad has been waging a deadly crackdown on a year-long uprising against his autocratic rule.

Syria's main opposition groups have rejected dialogue with Mr. Assad and said his departure is the only way to end the revolt.

The United Nations estimates that violence linked to the uprising has killed at least 7,500 people since it began last March. Syria blames the unrest on “armed terrorist groups” backed by foreign conspirators.