News / Middle East

    Activists: Syrian Forces Kill 63 as Red Cross Seeks Daily Truce

    Syrian security forces killed 63 people Tuesday in assaults on northern villages and a barrage of heavy shelling in the flashpoint city of Homs, as the Red Cross called for daily cease-fires to allow in urgently needed aid.

    Activists said at least 30 people died and more than 200 were wounded as government troops bombarded the rebel-held Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, where at least two children were killed. They said security forces launched the assault after opposition fighters in the Sunni Muslim district blocked troops from entering.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 33 more civilians were killed when government forces trying to crush opposition to President Bashar al-Assad stormed villages in northern Idlib province. The group said the assault targeted the settlement of Abdita and extended to neighboring areas.

    The casualty figures could not be independently verified because phone lines have been cut and Syria restricts the operations of foreign media.

    Deaths across Syria
    The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] called on Syrian authorities and rebels Tuesday to immediately implement a daily two-hour cease-fire so it can deliver emergency aid and evacuate the sick and wounded. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said that in Homs and elsewhere, entire families have been isolated for days, unable to secure food, water or medical care.

    State-run Syrian TV reports there is no shortage of food, fuel, and medicine in Homs.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. supports calls for a humanitarian cease-fire. Human rights activists say the violence has killed at least 6,000 people during the 11-month uprising.

    Watch related video of violence in Homs



    Intense shelling

    Intense shelling rocked the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs as living conditions for thousands of residents continued to deteriorate. Opposition videos posted on the Internet showed buildings and vehicles burning and columns of government tanks heading towards Homs.

    In the capital Damascus, anti-government protests overnight spread to the central district of Baramka, and security forces fired at demonstrators in Kafr Sousa, wounding several. Al Arabiya TV also showed video of a reported general strike in the affluent Barzeh district.

    Opposition videos also showed what appeared to be a large crowd of students demonstrating against the government in Syria's commercial capital of Aleppo. A video reportedly from Hassaka showed protesters toppling a statue of Assad's late brother Bassel.

    VOA cannot confirm the authenticity of any of the videos.

    Homs is a major hub of the protests against Assad's autocratic rule. Syria's military is under the control of Shi'ite Alawite officers, from the same minority sect as Assad, raising concerns the country is headed toward open civil war.

    The escalation comes as Russia, a key ally of Assad, said it will not attend an international conference on Syria later this week because the Syrian government would not be represented. Russia's foreign ministry said the United Nations Security Council should send a special humanitarian envoy to Syria.

    Friday meeting planned

    The "Friends of Syria" contact group - comprising Western and Arab nations openly seeking Assad's downfall - are planning to use Friday's meeting in Tunisia to increase pressure on the Syrian government to halt the bloodshed.

    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the best outcome for Syria would be a political solution, but that if Assad refuses to yield to diplomatic pressure, "we may have to consider additional measures."

    Earlier this month, Russia and China vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed effort to pass a Security Council resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for Assad to cede power. But Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said Monday he believes Moscow and Beijing may be shifting their positions on the Syrian crisis.

    Opposition growing

    Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution said protesters in Damascus and Aleppo have been joining the opposition in growing numbers.

    "I think both Damascus and Aleppo feel morally embarrassed that Homs and Hama and Daraa and Jisr Shughour have suffered, and that they have been somewhat quiescent," he said. "Sooner or later, it came to all the outskirts of Damascus. Now, the rebellion has come very close to the great presidential palace of Bashar al-Assad and the old neighborhoods of Damascus, i.e., the Mazzeh district, the Midan Square, etcetera."

    Ajami said that until recently, Damascus has been less of a flashpoint because the government had “bought off the merchant class,” with privileges. He predicts that “if Damascus were to be set ablaze, the regime would fall.”

    Ajami added that Syrian authorities have been reluctant to use too much force in Aleppo, a northern city, for fear of inciting neighboring Turkey.

    “My understanding is that the climate in Turkey itself, politically, would not permit any... in other words, if there were massacres in Aleppo, akin to what's happening in Homs, I think the Turks would unleash their power on Bashar, and I think Bashar, of course, knows that," he said.

    Ajami said the Syrian government's backing by Iran and Russia remains steadfast.

    "What we can say with confidence is that the friends of the Syrian regime, i.e. Hezbollah, Iran, the Russians, have come to the help of the Syrian regime, but the friends of the Syrian people, particularly the United States, have so far not come to the help of the Syrian people," he said.

     

    Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.