Syrian activists: 200 dead in government assaultBEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces hammered restive neighborhoods in the city of Homs for hours with mortars and artillery Saturday, sending terrified residents fleeing into basements and killing more than 200 people in what appeared to be the bloodiest episode of the nearly 11-month-old uprising, activists said.
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces hammered restive neighborhoods in the city of Homs for hours with mortars and artillery Saturday, sending terrified residents fleeing into basements and killing more than 200 people in what appeared to be the bloodiest episode of the nearly 11-month-old uprising, activists said.
The government denied the assault. It said the reports are part of a "hysterical campaign" of incitement by armed groups against Syria, meant to be exploited at the U.N. Security Council as it prepares to vote on a draft resolution backing an Arab call for President Bashar Assad to give up power.
The new bloodshed added new heat to last-minute negotiations as Western and Arab countries tried to win Russian support for the resolution. A vote was scheduled at the Security Council for Saturday, but so far Russia, a strong ally of Syria, was signaling it would veto any call for Assad's removal.
In a blunt warning to Washington, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday that if the resolution is put to a vote without taking Russia's opinion into account it will only lead to "another scandal" at the Security Council.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe countered that "those who block the adoption of such a resolution are taking a grave historical responsibility" in light of the Homs bloodshed, which he called a "crime against humanity."
Tunisia decided to expel Syria's ambassador in response to the "bloody massacre" in Homs and no longer recognizes the Assad regime, the president's office said in a statement. Angry Syrians stormed their embassies in Berlin, London, Athens, Cairo and Kuwait city, clashing with guards and police and — in Cairo — setting fire to part of the embassy.
In Homs, thousands turned out for a funeral ceremony in a city park for some of the victims of the bombardment the night before, hours after the assault eased. Large protests were reported across the country in solidarity with residents of the city.
Outside Damascus, 12 people were killed when security forces in the suburb of Daraya opened fire on a procession for victims of a shooting in the area a day earlier, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Three others were killed in violence in other Damascus suburbs. Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, reported 22 killed across Syria on Saturday.
There were signs that the bombardment in Homs, Syria's third largest city, was in response to moves by army defectors to solidify control in several neighborhoods. There were reports that defectors set up new checkpoints in several areas, and two Homs activists said defectors attacked a military checkpoint in the Khaldiyeh district Thursday night, capturing 17 soldiers. The activists spoke on condition of anonymity to protect themselves from retaliation.
If defector activity was the spark, the assault signals a new willingness by the regime to unleash more devastating force against the dissidents. The defectors, part of a force called the Free Syrian Army, have grown increasingly bold in attacks on the military and attempts to take overt control in pro-opposition areas.