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December 25, 2011

Syrian Forces Continue Shelling Homs as Monitors Near

Syrian government forces shelled parts of the besieged city of Homs for the fifth consecutive day Monday, causing numerous casualties, as a team of Arab League observers headed to the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Syrian government forces pounded the districts of Bab Amr and Bab Sibah in Homs, using tank shells, field artillery and mortars. Videos on opposition websites showed bodies lying in the streets and others being piled onto trucks.

Other opposition videos showed buildings pock-marked by shrapnel, store-fronts blasted open, and rubble in the streets. A young man named Ibn Ayoush explained what happened to him.  

He said he lost his father, his house and his car in the shelling. He asked why the Arab League observer team has not yet made it to Homs to see what is happening and to see how people are being killed. He asked why the world is doing nothing.

Numerous witnesses indicated that electricity was cut and food was running short in many parts of Homs. A video on Facebook showed women in the Bab Amr district pleading that life is becoming desperate.

One woman said her area has been bombed every day for more than a week, killing and wounding many people, and making it difficult to remove bodies from the streets. She said there is no telephone and that life has ground to a halt.

Meanwhile, a team of Arab League observers was heading to Damascus to begin a mission whose stated goal is to protect civilians as Syrian authorities try to suppress a nine-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Team member Talah Atlassi said the Arab League mission will visit five regions of Syria, including Homs, with the consent of the government, and will talk to various parties, including citizens, organizations and government officials, listening to all viewpoints.

Syrian opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun told Al Arabiya TV that the Arab observers “must not put off visiting Homs until Tuesday, giving the government more time to shell the city.” The French foreign ministry also urged the Arab League team to “visit Homs immediately.”

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, said the Syrian government has made crushing the rebellion in Homs a top priority:

"I don't think [the government] can quell the uprising, but I think they are planning to deliver a major blow to it, because Homs is the focus and the base of the uprising," said Khashan. "Once they're done with it, I think they may allow the Arab observers to have a cursory look at the situation there."

Syrian state TV insisted again on Monday that government forces are battling “armed terrorists,” and claimed that two car bombs in a Damascus suburb Friday was the work of those alleged terrorists. Opposition leaders accuse the government of being behind the bombings.

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