Tue, Feb 14, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Syrian forces bombard Homs neighborhoods

DEFIANT:Damascus rejects the Arab League’s idea of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force, while the proposal faces big obstacles at the UN even as the death toll rises

Reuters, AMMAN and BEIRUT

Syrian forces bombarded districts of Homs and attacked other cities yesterday after Arab states pledged support for the opposition battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and called for international peacekeepers to be sent to the country.

Tank fire was concentrated on two Sunni Muslim neighborhoods that have been at the forefront of an 11-month-old uprising against al-Assad, activists said.

“Mortar rounds and bombardment from BTRs [infantry fighting vehicles] are heavily hitting Baba Amro. We do not have numbers for any casualties because there is no communication with the district,” activist Mohammad al-Hassan said from Homs.

Activists said 23 people were killed on Sunday, adding to a toll of more than 300 since the assault on Homs began on Feb. 3.

The renewed barrages served as an emphatic response to Arab League moves to boost the opposition campaign against al-Assad, who is resisting calls to step down after 11 years of authoritarian rule.

Meeting in Cairo on Sunday, Arab League ministers proposed a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force for Syria and pledged to provide political and material aid to the opposition.

However, the plan faces all kinds of obstacles. World powers are divided over how to resolve the crisis and Russia and China, who vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria on Feb. 4. are unlikely to welcome foreign intervention.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was studying the Arab proposal for a peacekeeping mission, but wanted more details.

He said violence should end before any such mission takes place and international pressure should focus on the Syrian opposition as well as the government.

“In other words, it is necessary to agree to something like a ceasefire, but the tragedy is that the armed groups that are confronting the forces of the regime are not subordinate to anyone and are not under control,” Lavrov said.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday backed what it termed the Arab League’s “mediation,” but offered no clear sign of support for its call for peacekeepers. However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that any peacekeeping troops in Syria should come from non-Western countries.

“I don’t see the way forward in Syria as being Western boots on the ground in any form, including in any peacekeeping form,” he told reporters in South Africa.

“Of course, if such a concept can be made viable, we will be supporting it in all the usual ways,” Hague said.

Syria called the league’s resolution “a flagrant departure from the group’s charter and a hostile act that targets Syria’s security and stability.”

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