Syrian regime targeting hubs of protestors with tank shells


Blasts rocked the flashpoint city of Homs yesterday as Syria’s regime pressed its assault on protest hubs, while rebels attacked a military base in Damascus province, activists and monitors said.

There was “heavy shelling of Khaldiyeh, Hamidiyeh and Old Homs neighborhoods by the regime’s army, and explosions shook the whole city,” the Local Coordination Committees said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said that three people were wounded in the Homs district of Safsafa.

In the city of Hama to the north, the Observatory reported that army shelling killed one civilian in the neighborhood of Murk.

And in the southern town of Nawa, “tanks have entered the main streets, and heavy gunfire by regime forces is reported,” said the LCC, the main opposition activist group in Syria. Five troops and three mutinous soldiers were killed.

Nawa is in the southern Daraa province, where the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad’s iron-fisted rule erupted in March 2011.

The Observatory said an explosion hit a bridge in the Daraa region of Lajat where many army deserters are reported to be.

In the north, near the border with Turkey, rockets were fired into the town of Aazaz as helicopters flew overhead, the LCC said in a statement sent to AFP in Beirut.

It added that rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army blocked a highway used by the military for reinforcements and supplies to Aazaz, the scene of fierce clashes for the past few weeks.

In Damascus province, rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades in a dawn attack on a military facility in Nabak where ambulances rushed to the scene, said the Observatory.

Mohammed Al-Shami, an activist, said fighting erupted at night between soldiers and army deserters and continued into the early hours of Sunday, including in Douma, a hot spot on the capital’s northeastern outskirts.

In eastern Deir Ezzor, the security forces conducted a search and arrest operation, according to the Observatory.

As the year-old conflict showed no signs of abating, rebel fighters set up a military council to unify their ranks and political opposition leaders called a meeting of all dissident groups to forge common objectives. The latest violence came as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was in Moscow to seek the vital backing of Russia, a key ally of the Syrian regime, for his plan to end the bloodshed.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned yesterday that Annan represented the last chance for avoiding a civil war in Syria and offered the UN-Arab League envoy Moscow’s full support.

“This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war,” Russian agencies quoted Medvedev as telling Annan at a meeting, adding that Russia would provide “full support at any level” for his mission.

There are growing signs that Moscow is beginning to lose patience with Assad, despite his commitment to massive new Russian arms purchases and the granting of key naval access to the Mediterranean.

The Arab League, which is holding its annual summit in Iraq this week, will not call for Assad to resign, the group’s secretary-general said in comments published yesterday.

Nabil Al-Arabi told pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat Assad’s response to proposals by Annan to end the bloodshed in Syria was “insufficient,” and said he planned to submit a report on the crisis to summit leaders.

Asked in an interview if it was unlikely that the Arab League would call for Assad’s resignation during the meeting, Arabi replied: “That is correct.

Obama said at talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of a nuclear security summit in Seoul that they agreed “there should be a process” of transition to a “legitimate government” in Syria.

A top US national security official said the delivery of medical aid and other urgent supplies would top the agenda of a “Friends of Syria” meeting scheduled for April 1 in Istanbul.

Russia denounced the US-backed group on Friday amid contradictory signals from Moscow about the extent of its divide with the West over the crisis.

Arab News