Bashar’s Homs Massacre
More than 200 people have been killed by Syrian forces in the city of Homs, according to activists, as the UN security council prepares to vote on a draft resolution backing an Arab call for President Bashar al-Assad to resign.
As news of the violence spread, a crowd of Syrians stormed their country’s embassy in Cairo and protests broke out outside Syrian missions in Britain, Germany and the United States.
Tunisia decided to expel Syria’s ambassador in response to the “bloody massacre” and said it no longer recognized the Assad regime.
The attacks prompted western and Arab countries to step up their push for a UN resolution calling for Assad to go. But negotiations ahead of Saturday’s vote continued until the last minute as Russia, a strong ally of Syria, signaled it would veto any call for the president’s removal.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that if a resolution was put to a vote without taking Russia’s opinion into account it would lead to another scandal at the security council.
In an apparent swipe at Russia’s stance, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said the Homs bloodshed was a crime against humanity and “those who block the adoption of such a resolution are taking a grave historical responsibility”.
Death tolls cited by activists and opposition groups ranged from 217 to 260, making the Homs attack the deadliest so far in Assad’s crackdown on protests that erupted 11 months ago in response to uprisings that overthrew three Arab leaders.
Residents said Syrian forces began shelling the Khaldiya neighbourhood at around 8pm on Friday using artillery and mortars. They said at least 36 houses with families inside were destroyed.
“We were sitting inside our house when we started hearing the shelling. We felt shells were falling on our heads,” said Waleed, a resident of Khaldiya.
It was not immediately clear what had prompted Syrian forces to launch such an intense bombardment, just as diplomats at the security council were discussing the draft resolution supporting the Arab League demand for Assad to step aside.
Some activists said the violence was triggered by a wave of army defections in Homs, a stronghold of protests and armed insurgents whom Assad has vowed to crush.
“The death toll is now at least 217 people killed in Homs, 138 of them killed in the Khaldiya district,” Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters, citing witnesses.
“Syrian forces are shelling the district with mortars from several locations, some buildings are on fire. There are also buildings which got destroyed.”
An activist said forces bombarded Khaldiya to scare other rebel neighbourhoods. “It does not seem that they get it. Even if they kill 10 million of us, the people will not stop until we topple him.”
The opposition Syrian National Council said 260 civilians were killed, describing it as “one of the most horrific massacres since the beginning of the uprising in Syria”. It said it believed Assad’s forces were preparing for similar attacks around Damascus and in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour.
Another group, the Local Co-ordination Committees, gave a death toll of more than 200.
It is not possible to verify activist or state media reports as Syria restricts independent media access.
Video footage on the internet showed at least eight bodies assembled in a room, one of them with the top half of its head blown off. A voice on the video said the bombardment was continuing as the video was being filmed.
One activist said residents were using primitive tools to rescue people. They feared many were buried under rubble.
“We are not getting any help, there are no ambulances or anything. We are removing the people with our own hands,” he said, adding that there were only two field hospitals to treat the wounded. Each one had a capacity to deal with 30 people, but he estimated the total number of wounded at 500.
“We have dug out at least 100 bodies so far, they are placed in the two mosques.”
In Cairo a crowd stormed the Syrian embassy, smashing furniture and setting fire to parts of the building in protest at the latest bloodshed, an embassy official and a witness said.
The gate of the embassy was broken and furniture was smashed on the second floor of the building, a Reuters witness said. It was the second attack on the mission in a week.
In London more than 150 Syrians hurled stones at the Syrian embassy overnight, smashing windows and shouting slogans, and six people were arrested.
At a rally in Washington people shouted “Syria soon will be free” outside the mission, according to TV footage.
In the Syrian cities of Hama and Idlib activists said hundreds of people took to the streets in solidarity. “Homs is bombarded and you are still sleeping?” they chanted in Idlib.
In Hama armed forces shot dead one person on Friday as they moved to break up a protest marking the anniversary of a 1982 massacre by troops loyal to Assad’s father, activists said.
The Observatory said forces dispersed protests in the Janoub al-Malaab district of Hama where people had planned to release 1,000 red balloons to mark the killing of more than 10,000 people when Hafez al-Assad’s forces crushed an Islamist uprising.
Violence also returned to the commercial hub Aleppo, which had largely remained on the sidelines of the uprising.
—February 4, 2012 UK Guardian