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Syrian Troops Shell Homs After UN Condemnation


Smoke billows in Homs after the city is shelled by what activists say were Syrian troops, February 17, 2012.

Smoke billows in Homs after the city is shelled by what activists say were Syrian troops, February 17, 2012.

Activists say Syrian troops are shelling rebel-held areas in the central city of Homs, just one day after the United Nations General Assembly condemned the regime for violating human rights in its crackdown.

The activists said tank fire and artillery shelling Friday hit four neighborhoods in the central city, which has spearheaded the 11-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. They also say demonstrations in defiance of Assad's government have sprung up in several cities throughout the country, including the capital, Damascus.

The shelling came even as China's vice foreign minister, Zhai Jun, arrived in Damascus for talks with Syrian officials on resolving the conflict. The Chinese embassy in Damascus said Zhai was scheduled to meet with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad.

In Washington Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are "once again condemning in the strongest possible terms the ongoing violence against the Syrian people perpetrated by the Assad regime."

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused the Assad government of "almost certain" crimes against humanity.

The U.N. General Assembly also passed a resolution, approved by 137 of the assembly's 193 member states, calling on Assad's autocratic government to "immediately put an end to attacks against civilians."

Frustrated by the lack of U.N. Security Council action, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who met his French counterpart in Paris for talks on Friday, said Britain and France both support the creation of the "Friends of Syria," an international coalition that world leaders are expected to discuss next week at a conference in Tunisia.

"What is happening in Syria is appalling, you have a government that is butchering and murdering its own people, and it is horrific what is taking place and that's why it's so important that the world comes together and the world acts as decisively as it can," said Cameron.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, sent a strong message to Syrian opposition groups to unite so that the outside world can better support them in overthrowing the Syrian government.

"We cannot bring about a Syrian revolution without the Syrian people and I am sure you understand what I mean by this. We cannot bring this about if the Syrian opposition doesn't unite and organize to help us to help them. We will not accept that a dictator is allowed to massacre its own people, but the revolution cannot come from the outside, it must be born from within," said Sarkozy.

General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but reflect world opinion on major issues. Eleven nations joined Syria in voting against the resolution, most notably Russia and China, which vetoed a similar measure in the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said the assembly sent a clear message to the Syrian people that "the world is with you" and Assad "has never been more isolated."

Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, accused the resolution's Arab co-sponsors of colluding with "terrorists" to undermine the Syrian government.

Rights groups say Assad's crackdown on dissent has killed more than 6,000 people since last March. There was no way to verify the latest casualty figures independently because Syria tightly restricts foreign media.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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