Syrian Security Forces Shell Homs, Killing At Least 8

Posted March 26th, 2012 at 2:00 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Syrian activists say security forces have bombarded the flashpoint central city of Homs, setting fire to houses and killing at least eight people in a key hub of a year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The activists say government shells struck several parts of Homs on Monday as part of a daily assault on remaining centers of resistance in the city where security forces captured the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr last month.

Rights groups say at least eight more people were killed in Syrian military operations against other opposition hubs around the country. The activist reports could not be independently confirmed because Syria tightly restricts foreign reporting in the country.

A spokesman for international peace envoy Kofi Annan said Monday that the Syria government has formally responded to the envoy's peace plan for the country. Ahmad Fawzi said Annan was studying the Syrian response and would respond “very shortly.”

The U.N.-Arab League envoy presented the plan to Syrian President Assad in Damascus earlier this month and obtained international support for it in a U.N. Security Council statement adopted last week.

Annan's proposals call on Syrian government forces and rebels to agree on a cease-fire and engage in dialogue. The plan does not include a Western and Arab demand for Mr. Assad to resign — a demand that Russia and China oppose.

Earlier Monday in Moscow, Annan said it is not practical to impose deadlines on Syria's government and opposition to accept his plan.

But, he said Syria's unrest “cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely” and the parties “cannot resist the transformational winds that are blowing” through the region, as he put it. Annan also said it is up to the Syrian people to decide if Mr. Assad should resign after 11 years of autocratic rule.

Turkey, meanwhile, suspended operations at its Damascus embassy, citing Syria's worsening security situation. Ankara's move further isolates President Assad and follows a recent series of embassy closures by Arab and Western nations critical of his violent crackdown on the revolt.

Western and Arab nations who call themselves the “Friends of Syria” are due to meet in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Sunday to discuss ways of supporting the Syrian opposition's struggle to end decades of autocratic government. Opposition activists were gathering in Istanbul on Monday to try to unite ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting.

The anti-Assad coalition has been trying for months to condemn Syria at the U.N. Security Council but Russia has repeatedly blocked such efforts, calling them biased against the Assad government, a longtime Russian ally.

U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged ongoing “differences” in the U.S. and Russian positions after meeting his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Seoul on Monday. But, Mr. Obama also said he and Mr. Medvedev agree on supporting Kofi Annan's efforts to “end some of the bloodshed” in Syria and begin a transition to a “legitimate” government.

Speaking alongside the U.S. president, Mr. Medvedev reiterated Russia's support for Annan's plan. The U.S. and Russian presidents were in Seoul for a nuclear security summit.

Annan met with Mr. Medvedev in Moscow on Sunday and was due to arrive in Beijing on Tuesday to seek further backing for his peace proposals.

In other developments, Syrian state news agency SANA said government troops foiled an attempt by terrorists to enter the country from Turkey on Monday, killing and wounding some of the infiltrators. It said Turkish medical teams evacuated the casualties. Ankara had no immediate comment on the incident.

Also, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a relative of an assassinated Syrian Kurdish leader has been found dead in the northeastern province of Hasaka.

It said the body of activist Khalaf Mohammed al-Shab was discovered late Sunday, hours after he was abducted in the predominantly Kurdish region. Al-Shab was a nephew of Mashall Tamo, who was assassinated last October.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on the uprising during the past year. Damascus blames the violence on what it says are foreign-backed terrorists.