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Date:5 February 2012


Author: RANIA ABOUZEID / BEIRUT


Massacre in Syria : Reports of Hundreds Killed in Homs


Voice of Freedom :The dozens of bodies, cloaked and tightly bound in white shrouds, were hoisted aloft on stretchers, one after the other, after mass funeral prayers in Freedom Square in the Homs neighborhood of Khaldiyeh. Footage aired live by al-Jazeera satellite channel showed women ululating from balconies as the dead were ferried through the streets below on a sunny Saturday afternoon toward the cemetery.
On Friday night and early Saturday morning, while much of the world slept, Syrian security forces carried out what the opposition Syrian National Council called a "horrific massacre" targeting Homs' Khaldiyeh and Qusoor neighborhoods, one of the worst in the 11-month uprising. Various activist groups offered differing figures, but somewhere between 217 to perhaps as many as 337 people were killed in Syria's third-largest city in a barrage of mortar-fire and artillery. More than 1,000 were injured.
(PHOTOS: Syria's Protests Rage On)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to have gone "Hama" on Homs, emulating his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad's ferocious crackdown on the Syrian city of Hama almost 30 years ago to the day, which left at least 10,000 dead and a trauma so enduring that for decades it crushed all who would question the absolute authority of the Assads.

The bloodbath came on the eve of a United Nations Security Council vote on a draft resolution backing the Arab League's call for Assad to step aside. On Saturday, Russia and China vetoed a watered down resolution, shielding their stalwart ally from censure. Moscow had gutted most of the substance of the resolution anyway, including calls for Assad's ouster and the imposition of sanctions on his regime.

Damascus denied claims of an assault on Homs. The state-run news agency quoted an unnamed "information source" saying that the allegation was part of a "hysterical campaign of provocation and incitement to the shedding of more Syrian blood" undertaken by "the TV satellites of instigation, partners with the armed terrorist groups and the so-called Istanbul council," SANA said, referring to Qatar and its al-Jazeera channel, Saudi Arabia and Al-Arabiya, as well as the Syrian National Council (SNC), the umbrella group at the forefront of the Syrian opposition.

The gruesome amateur footage of bloodied corpses posted online and "aired by satellites of lies" did not show victims of a government assault, SANA asserted, but rather people kidnapped and killed by "armed terrorist groups." The alleged disinformation was part of "a sinister bid to negatively affect the ongoing U.N. Security Council discussions about Syria," state media said.
(WATCH: Why They Protest in Syria)

The SNC had earlier urged Russia in a statement to reverse its policy and "clearly condemn the regime and hold it responsible for the massacres." SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun also asked "people of the world" to demonstrate in front of Syrian embassies in support of the Syrian people. His call was heeded in several capitals, with protests, and in some cases the storming of embassies in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Libya, Algeria, the United Kingdom and Greece as well as gatherings outside the United Nations in New York by pro- and anti-Syrian government supporters.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday condemned the "unspeakable assault" on civilians in Syria. British Foreign Minister William Hague criticized the "chilling" violence in Homs and Assad's "cold-blooded cynicism." Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, expelled the Syrian ambassador in Tunis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he would be visiting Syria in the next few days, perhaps with a stronger private message for the Syrian leader that Moscow is unwilling to utter in public.

The people of Homs also had a message for the world as they buried their dead on Saturday. As has become the norm, the funeral in Khaldiyeh quickly turned into a demonstration. "This is a message to Arab leaders, to Russia and China, to the Russian and Chinese people, the United Nations Security Council, you are all partners in the biggest massacre in the uprising!" a young man leading the chants in Khaldiyeh's square yelled into a microphone.

"When will you recognize the National Council, the only one speaking in the name of these people?" he said referring to the SNC, which has received little international recognition, even from Arab states. He read out the names of "martyr heroes" as the huge crowd listened in silence. He stopped at 35.

"These martyrs were identified. Others are in pieces, others are still unidentified," he said. "What do they want?" the young man continued, "either we kneel before Bashar's picture or..." He was interrupted by thunderous chants of "We kneel only to God!"

Highlighting the angry defiance among protesters, the young man, who made no attempt to conceal his identity, looked up toward the camera perched high above the crowd: "We have not knelt Bashar! Do you hear? We will not kneel to anyone but God! These people," he said, waving toward the crowd, "we are all martyrs!"
(MORE: Syria: The Brutal, Shadowy War for Hearts and Minds)

"The people demand the execution of Bashar," the crowd yelled. (Assad is not even referred to as the president anymore, even in chants calling for his execution.)

It's unclear what triggered the latest bloodbath, which happened shortly after an amateur video aired on Arabic satellite television channels showed 19 uniformed soldiers detained by the Free Syrian Army's Farouk Brigade in Homs, the same brigade that says it has seven Iranians in custody.

Syrian opposition members pointed to a cynical ploy by Assad's forces to try and out-and-out crush several stubbornly defiant neighborhoods in Homs, while Russia holds an increasingly agitated international community at bay with its threat of a veto over any Syria resolution.

Still, Homs wasn't the only city under siege at the start of the weekend. Activists were reporting large-scale assaults on Zabadani, a town on the outskirts of Damascus which some two weeks ago negotiated a cease-fire with the regime. The towns of Rastan, near Homs, as well as Darraya near Damascus and others were also reportedly being attacked by loyalist troops.

The 19 loyalists were captured when defectors overran their checkpoint outside a medical dispensary in Homs.

The men are seated in three neat rows, and every man bar one (a former State security officer in a black leather jacket, the mukhabarat's default uniform) holds a laminated military ID card in front of him.
(MORE: Arab League Tells Assad To Go)

A voice off-camera mocks the soldiers. "If we were fighting teenage girls, the fight would have lasted longer. It didn't take 10 minutes. What's the reason? Don't you have anything to fight for? We always hear 'God, Syria, Bashar' on Addounia," the man off-camera says, referring to a Syrian state television channel. After a moment of silence, a loyalist who says he is from the Special Forces answers: "Bashar is in his palace leaving us here to get killed."

Most of the men are Alawites, although a few in the front row are Sunnis. "The regime is trying to create differences between the sects and start a civil war," the voice off-camera says. "And now we have Russia and its veto, do you understand me? So that a civil war will start between you and us. But it won't God willing. We are smarter, more honorable and cleaner than that as a people and we are more nationalistic than they are. That is why we will keep you for three days and then you'll be freed should the lowest-ranking Russian diplomat in the embassy come to claim you." Russia may yet rue its decision to stick so closely to a regime most observers say will eventually fall. The only questions are when, and how many more will die?

Source :Times








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