Over 200 re­ported killed in Syr­ian at­tack on Homs

Shelling of city would be dead­li­est as­sault of 10-month-old up­ris­ing

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALICE FORD­HAM

da­m­as­cus, syria — Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces launched a heavy as­sault on Syria’s third-largest city Fri­day night, killing more than 200 peo­ple and wound­ing hun­dreds as rock­ets crashed into neigh­bor­hoods and slammed into build­ings that col­lapsed on ter­ri­fied res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to ac­tivists.

If con­firmed, the mil­i­tary as­sault on Homs would be the sin­gle dead­li­est at­tack of the 10-mon­thold up­ris­ing that has dev­as­tated the coun­try.

The at­tack oc­curred on the eve of a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote on con­demn­ing the gov­ern­ment’s vi­o­lent re­sponse to anti-regime protests. The vote came af­ter months of swelling in­ter­na­tional outrage over the crack­down.

Mil­i­tary forces be­gan to fire shells and rock­ets on the neigh­bor­hood of Khaldiyeh, a hot­bed of protest, in the late evening, said ac­tivist Omar Shakir, speak­ing by tele­phone from the city. He said he heard hun­dreds of mis­siles strike the area.

The as­sault then spread to the Baba Amr and Bab al-se­baa neigh­bor­hoods, with build­ings crum­bling on top of wail­ing res­i­dents. He es­ti­mated that at least 220 peo­ple were dead and more than 700 in­jured.

It was not pos­si­ble, he said, to take the in­jured to hos­pi­tals be­cause roads were blocked by se­cu­rity forces. Armed pro-gov­ern­ment gangs had taken in­jured and dead peo­ple from the al-amal hospi­tal near Khaldiyeh, ap­par­ently to re­move ev­i­dence of the of­fen­sive, he said.

Peo­ple were be­ing treated in makeshift field hos­pi­tals, he said, but he feared that many with head and chest in­juries would die.

“As­sad has lost con­trol of this city and be­came mad, he be­came crazy to do these crimes,” he ex­claimed.

Rami Ab­dulrah­man, head of the Bri­tish-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, said he had tal­lied the deaths in the city at 217 af­ter speak­ing with res­i­dents. He added that Homs had been rocked by fight­ing be­tween the Free Syr­ian Army armed op­po­si­tion group and gov­ern­ment forces be­fore the as­sault be­gan in the evening.

“From the 19 of March till now, this is the blood­i­est day in Syria,” he de­clared, re­fer­ring to the start of the up­ris­ing against the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad.

It was not pos­si­ble to in­de­pen­dently con­firm the ca­su­alty es­ti­mates or de­tails of the at­tack on Homs, which is about 100 miles north of Da­m­as­cus.

Dima Moussa, a U.s.-based Syr­ian Amer­i­can born in Homs, said she had spo­ken to sev­eral city res­i­dents, who de­scribed a scene of hor­ror.

“At least four build­ings have col­lapsed. There are still peo­ple un­der the rub­ble. It’s the mid­dle of the night — they can’t get to them,” said Moussa, a mem­ber of the Syr­ian Na­tional Coun­cil op­po­si­tion group.

Moussa said the tim­ing of the at­tack was sig­nif­i­cant. Op­po­si­tion groups across the coun­try had used their weekly Fri­day protests to com­mem­o­rate the 30th an­niver­sary of a no­to­ri­ous as­sault on an up­ris­ing in the city of Hama. At least 10,000 peo­ple were killed in that fight­ing, ac­cord­ing to rights groups’ re­port­ing at the time, and the date was highly emo­tional for pro­test­ers.

“I don’t think that it was a co­in­ci­dence that it was the 30th an­niver­sary of the events in Hama,” Moussa said. “The regime is say­ing that this is what we do, we will do it again, and they are dis­re­gard­ing ev­ery hu­man rights law that’s out there, and ob­vi­ously they are dis­re­gard­ing all the peo­ple’s de­mands.”

How­ever, she pre­dicted that the protest move­ment would re­main re­silient, say­ing that al­ready in the city of Idlib, peo­ple were hold­ing night­time demon­stra­tions in sup­port of the vic­tims in Homs.

She added that ac­tivists were re­port­ing that there had also been a large-scale as­sault on Zabadani, an area near Da­m­as­cus where armed op­po­nents of the gov­ern­ment had ne­go­ti­ated a cease-fire with Syr­ian of­fi­cials more than two weeks ago. It was not pos­si­ble to im­me­di­ately con­firm de­tails of ei­ther op­er­a­tion.

The as­sault on Homs comes as the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil pre­pares to vote on a con­tentious res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the op­po­si­tion demon­stra­tions. Rus­sia has strongly op­posed such a move and called for a num­ber of con­ces­sions to the pro­posed draft res­o­lu­tions. One mea­sure un­der dis­cus­sion is a process of di­a­logue be­tween the op­po­si­tion and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

“It seems that the regime has read the stalling by the Rus­sians as a li­cense to stomp this out very quickly and then try and dic­tate the process of di­a­logue with the op­po­si­tion,” said An­drew Tabler of the Washington In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy.

“I don’t un­der­stand how this res­o­lu­tion in New York can ar­rest what is hap­pen­ing in Syria,” he added. “The idea is that the Rus­sians would use their in­flu­ence to con­strain the regime, but it seems that the regime is read­ing it the other way.”

The vi­o­lence of the crack­down against an ini­tially largely peace­ful, if now in­creas­ingly armed, na­tion­wide protest move­ment has drawn in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion.

One Western diplo­mat, speak­ing in Da­m­as­cus this week, said: “The regime has no moral scru­ples, no shame. They sub­or­di­nate all that to a sense of honor.”

In Washington on Fri­day night, dozens of pro­test­ers wav­ing Syr­ian flags gath­ered out­side the Syr­ian Em­bassy to protest the killings in Homs.

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