Syrian government forces stepped up their attacks across the country Sunday, employing artillery barrages in the flashpoint city of Homs, as well as the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo, and the towns of Rastan, Telbiseh and Deir ez Zor.
Webcam images showed thick plumes of smoke rising from artillery strikes across the besieged city of Homs Sunday, as shells crashed into apartment blocks and other buildings. Witnesses report increasingly desperate conditions, with little respite in the shelling.
A veiled woman with two small daughters explained in an amateur video that she was not afraid, but worried about what would happen to her children.
She says that there is no water, no electricity and that she has no milk for her children. She pleads with the outside world to help her save her children, saying she fears for their safety.
In an interview with Agence France Presse one resident of Homs called the siege by government forces “suffocating.” Other activists reported that many neighborhoods have been completely isolated from one other, amid worries of an imminent government onslaught.
Syrian government forces also intensified artillery barrages against the opposition strongholds of Rastan and Quseir, outside of Homs. Rastan has symbolic importance, since it is home to many Sunni Muslim military families and is the hometown of former defense minister Mustapha Tlass.
Amateur video also showed government forces attacking the Damascus suburb of Douma with artillery, mortars and tank shells, amid scenes of collapsed buildings and streets blocked by destroyed vehicles and other rubble. Douma has a heavy presence of rebel soldiers.
Al Arabiya TV also reported that the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, as well as some suburbs of Aleppo were pummeled by government shelling. Opposition video also claimed that many businesses in and around Aleppo were observing a “general strike” to protest against government repression.
Some political observers say the reported increase in government military attacks are directly related to the decision by the U.N. observer force Saturday to suspend operations temporarily. Analyst Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group
, however, says that the observers made their decision “because of the escalation on the ground.....rather than causing it.”
Analyst Joshua Landis of Oklahoma University tells VOA that “many at the U.N. felt that it should continue to bear witness, but that the danger factor clearly trumped this.” He adds that “there is a sense that fighting will get worse and the death rate will go back up,” pushing others to argue that “the U.N. should not be associated" with what is taking place.
Peter Harling says that both the Syrian government and the opposition have been "paying lip service" to the cease-fire and to Kofi Annan's peace plan while trying to win the fighting.
"Those who support the opposition believe that over time it can turn the tables against the regime on the ground, and those who support the regime believe that it can defeat this uprising," he said. "All parties pay lip service to the cease-fire, to a political solution, to the Kofi Annan mission, while fundamentally I think wanting to win the battle on the ground.
Harling compares the U.N. observers to a judge in a rugby match “in which both sides decide not to observe the rules and to fight it out.” He insists that there “isn't much that the judge can do in such a case to impose restraint.”