Syrian troops yesterday tightened their grip on the flashpoint city of Homs as the opposition demanded the deployment of armed peacekeepers after UN observers halted their work because of bloodshed.
Violence cost at least another 11 lives yesterday, taking the overall weekend death toll across the troubled country to 80 as of press time, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among them was a civilian killed in the rebel bastion of Khalidiyeh, which, like other parts of Homs, was “being shelled and shot at by regime forces who have been trying to enter these districts for several days,” it said.
Speaking to reporters via Skype from the Old City neighborhood of Homs, opposition activist Abu Bilal said the regime assault on several parts of the central city was “suffocating.”
“They are shelling us all the time. There’s very little food and water and we’re running out of medication,” he said.
Bilal reiterated fears expressed by the opposition and rights watchdogs that, should regime forces enter the besieged districts, people trapped inside them “will be massacred.”
Amateur video posted online by anti-regime activists in the Homs district of Jourat al-Shiah showed widespread destruction, deserted streets and parts of a building shelled and on fire.
The Observatory had reported on Saturday that more than 1,000 families were trapped in Homs, and that there was a lack of medical staff and equipment.
The exiled Syrian National Council (SNC), the country’s main opposition group, called on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to arm the observers.
“At a time when the regime is committing its worst crimes against the Syrian people, we are surprised by the UN observers’ decision to suspend their work, because of what they described as ‘an intensification’ of violence,” the SNC said in a statement.
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) suspended its operations two months into its three-month mandate on Saturday, blaming the intensifying violence.
The observers were progressively deployed starting in mid-April to monitor a UN-backed, but widely flouted ceasefire, and were even likened to “sitting ducks in a shooting gallery” by US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
The SNC urged the Security Council to “intervene quickly, and to pass a resolution under Chapter VII [of the UN Charter] to arm the UN monitors, so that they can defend themselves ... and ensure that the regime stops killing, while enforcing [UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s] peace plan.”
Explaining his mission’s suspension, Major General Robert Mood spoke of an escalation in fighting and of the risk to his 300-strong UN team, as well as a “lack of willingness” for peace by the warring parties.
“This escalation is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report, as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects — basically impeding our ability to carry out our mandate,” he said. “In this high risk situation, UNSMIS is suspending its activities.”
The observers “will not conduct patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice,” he said, adding that “engagement with the parties will be restricted.”
Mood said the suspension would be reviewed daily, and that “operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities.”