Feb 4, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Damascus on Saturday said gunmen were responsible for the killing of more than 400 civilians across Syria, the state media reported.
At least 416 civilians were killed by the Syrian forces across the country while the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) vowed to fight back with intense operations against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Early Saturday, the anti-Assad regime army intensified its campaign against the government’s forces as it destroyed an air intelligence building in Homs, the Syrian Media Center reported. Hours later, the media center said that a huge explosion took place in Hama close to the border entrance of Halab. And in the rebel-held al-Zabadani, the opposition fighters went on to surround a government security building, the media center said.
Ammar al-Wawi, an FSA official, told Al Arabiya that the free army vows more operations against Assad’s forces to include targets such as military and police headquarters.
Initially, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 138 of the fatalities were caused by mortar fire in the Al-Khalidiya district of Homs, which has become a flashpoint of the 10-month revolt against the regime of Assad. Civilians, including women and children were killed, a rights group said on Saturday.
But Al Arabiya correspondent said that the death toll in Homs alone included 337 people killed and 1,300 others injured. The correspondent also reported that the Khalidiya hospital in Homs was destroyed.
Residents said Syrian forces began shelling the Khalidiya neighborhood at around 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday using artillery and mortars. They said at least 36 houses were completely destroyed with families inside.
“We were sitting inside our house when we started hearing the shelling. We felt the bombardment was falling on our heads,” said Waleed a resident of Khalidiya.
As Syrians rushed to aid victims and carried on with funerals in Homs, Assad forces continued with attacks, Al Arabiya correspondent said, adding that nail bombs were used during the shelling campaign against the city.
It was not immediately clear what had prompted Syrian forces to launch such an intense bombardment at a time when diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are discussing a draft resolution on an Arab League plan calling for Assad to give up power.
Another 79 people were killed in other parts of town.
The grim tolls, if confirmed, would mark the bloodiest day of the almost 11-month uprising against Assad’s regime.
“It’s a real massacre,” the observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, calling for the “immediate intervention” of the Arab League to end the killing.
Al Arabiya showed images of dozens of bodies on the ground and scenes of chaos in the city, with several buildings destroyed.
Residents claiming to be from Homs took to Twitter to send out updates. One spoke of a city that “is bleeding” and under heavy bombardment and another counted “366 explosions tonight so far.”
AFP was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the videos nor of the opposition and residents’ accounts because of restrictions on reporting in Syria.
The Observatory said the violence broke out after thousands of people across Syria defied the government crackdown to mark the 30th anniversary of a notorious 1982 massacre in the central city of Hama that killed thousands.
News of the latest deaths came as a diplomat in New York said members of the U.N. Security Council would meet Saturday morning for a vote on a resolution condemning the violent repression in Syria.
The text is the same as a draft resolution sent to the council’s 15 members on Thursday.
It highlights the U.N. body’s support for an Arab League plan for a democratic transition while leaving out explicit references to calls for Assad to step down, the diplomat said Friday.
The Syrian rights group, called on the people “to take to the streets in the towns and villages and to rise up against the regime which is committing a real massacre right now in Homs.”
The Homs violence followed an already bloody day in which, the Syrian Observatory said, at least 35 other people were reported killed across Syria, among them 16 civilians.
The Britain-based group said 14 soldiers were killed in clashes with the rebel FSA and that five army deserters also lost their lives.
In addition, one person died of wounds sustained on Thursday, and the bodies of three other people were either found or returned to their families.
Amid growing concern that Syria is sliding into all-out civil war, an officer with the FSA claimed the regular army “is in a pitiful state and getting close to collapsing.”