Activists say shelling has killed 16 people but did not result in expected military offensive aimed at retaking rebel-held city
Syrian troops have shelled districts in the rebel stronghold of Homs, killing at least 16 people and compounding fears of a fresh round of bloody urban combat in a country on the brink of all-out civil war.
Activists said the intense shelling of Baba Amr in Homs on Tuesday lasted a few hours but did not seem to be the start of a widely expected military offensive aimed at retaking rebel-held neighbourhoods in the central region. Two of the 16 people killed were children, according to activists, who warned Homs was facing a humanitarian catastrophe.
In the northern province of Aleppo, the government said a Syrian businessman was shot dead in front of his home in what appeared to be the latest in a series of targeted attacks that suggest armed factions are growing bolder and more co-ordinated in their uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
An activist inside Homs said the shelling started after repeated attempts by troops to storm the edges of Baba Amr.
“Government troops have been unable to advance because of stiff resistance from defectors inside,” he told the Associated Press.
The military sent columns of tanks and other reinforcements toward Homs on Monday, activists said. A flood of military reinforcements has been a prelude to previous offensives by the regime, which has tried to use its overwhelming firepower to crush an opposition that has been bolstered by defecting soldiers and hardened by 11 months of street battles.
On Monday, the Red Cross said it was trying to broker a ceasefire among all parties in Syria to allow emergency aid in. On Tuesday, Russia said the UN should send a special envoy to Syria to help co-ordinate security issues and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Russia’s foreign ministry said on Twitter it was proposing that the UN security council ask the UN secretary general to send the envoy.
Despite the humanitarian activity, activists reported heavy shelling early on Tuesday morning of the Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and Karm el-Zeytoun districts of Homs. It lasted for more than two hours, followed by intermittent attacks concentrated on Baba Amr.
Baba Amr on Homs’ south-west edge has become the centre of the city’s opposition. Hundreds of army defectors are thought to be taking shelter there, clashing with troops in hit-and-run attacks each day.
Residents and activists say a siege and increased attacks on Baba Amr in recent days have left the district without enough food, medicine, electricity and water.
“They bombed all the water tanks on the roofs of buildings, there’s no water. Some people have gone without bread for days,” said activist and resident Omar Shaker. “If they don’t die in the shelling they will die of hunger.”
Shaker, who recently fled from Baba Amr’s centre to the outskirts, said at one point shells were falling at a rate of around 10 a minute. He said he saw thick grey smoke rise from residential areas. Among the dead were two children and more than 200 others were wounded, he added.
Phone lines have been cut with the city, making it difficult to get firsthand accounts from Homs residents.
One amateur video filmed by activists and posted on the internet showed thick smoke and shells slamming behind a building in Baba Amr. Another showed a shop on the ground floor of a building on fire, the narrator crying “We are dying. Where are the Arabs?” to the backdrop of gunfire and shells.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the observatory, said 16 people died in the shelling, but added there was no indication that a major ground assault to take back Baba Amr had begun.
Shaker called on countries attending a planned Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia at the end of this week to find ways of helping the Syrian people.
“People don’t care if it’s the devil intervening to save us from Bashar, we need the world’s help,” he said.
State-run news agency Sana said Syrian businessman Mahmoud Ramadan was shot dead on Tuesday by gunmen in Aleppo, a centre of support for Assad since the uprising began. Gunmen on Sunday staged a guerrilla-style ambush attack in northern Syria that killed a senior state prosecutor and a judge. On Saturday, a member of the Aleppo city council was also killed. Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said the world body should help solve humanitarian issues in Syria.
Russia and China have vetoed two security council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Assad’s crackdown on protests that have killed 5,400 in 2011, according to the UN. Hundreds more have since been killed, activist groups say. One of the groups puts the toll at more than 7,300.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich also said Moscow would not attend the planned Friends of Syria meeting, because its organisers had failed to invite representatives of the Syrian government.
Lukashevich said the meeting would not help a dialogue, sayingthe global community should act as friends of the entire Syrian people, and not just one part.
“It looks like an attempt to forge some kind of international coalition like it was with the setting-up of a ‘contact group’ for Libya,” Lukashevich said.
Russia has said it will block any UN resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya.
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