Syrian government troops widened their offensive against opposition strongholds throughout the country Thursday with heavy weaponry.
Witnesses say Syrian government forces attacked parts of the southern flashpoint city of Daraa Thursday, in a fresh bid to subdue the opposition movement. That attack was coupled with a widespread offensive in other areas of the country, including Homs, Hama, Idlib, and the outskirts of Damascus.
Witnesses and opposition websites report that Syrian government tanks stormed a number of smaller towns. Pro-government militiamen also reportedly arrested hundreds of suspected opposition activists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA at least 24 people were killed across the country Thursday, including four people in clashes in Daraa and 14 people in a government assault on an area near Hama.
State-run Syrian television says government forces were attacking “terrorist hideouts” in Hama, Homs and Daraa.
Opposition activist Aseel Abdullah told Alhurra TV that the government attack on Daraa caused damage to property and a number of casualties.
A building collapsed in the Baba Amr district of Homs after being pummeled by government artillery. The shelling continued in Baba Amr for the 12th consecutive day, amid reports of more casualties and severe shortages of food and medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition leaders continued their call for humanitarian aid.
The U.N. General Assembly is due to meet later Thursday to discuss an Arab League plan to send a peacekeeping force to Syria.
Also Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded that Syria stop its shelling of civilian areas. "We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10-years-old chained and abused," he told journalists in Vienna. He called the actions an “almost certain crime against humanity.”
"We see almost certain crimes against humanity," he said "The lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government license to continue this assault on its own people. The longer we debate, the more people will die.''
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says that while the Syrian government wants to crush the opposition movement, it is proving difficult.
Syria's allies in Lebanon claim that the government offensive will crush the opposition in two weeks, he said, adding that he doubted a military solution will resolve the conflict.