Haro Chakmakjian, AFP
Last updated: 21 March, 2012

Homs toll up, Syria activists fear new Baba Amr

Syrian army troops rained shells on the Homs district of Khaldiyeh on Wednesday, as the casualty toll from two days of bombardment rose to at least 19 dead and dozens wounded, activists said.

“Khaldiyeh is being bombed, with shells and rockets, for a second day,” Hadi Abdullah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission told AFP, reached by telephone from Beirut.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said at least five civilians were killed and dozens wounded in Wednesday’s shelling, a day after 14 civilians were killed in the same district.

It said two children were among the latest deaths.

“Every five minutes from 8 am (0600 GMT), between three and seven shells have come crashing down,” said another witness, who added that casualties were dying in makeshift field clinics for lack of medical equipment.

Abdullah said he feared a repeat of the month-long battering that killed hundreds in the Baba Amr district of Homs before the army moved in on March 1 after a pullout by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up mostly of army deserters.

He said thousands of residents who fled Baba Amr and other neighbourhoods of the city in central Syria had taken refuge in Khaldiyeh, “the last front left” in Homs.

“Four or five families are crammed into each house. People are also sheltering in mosques and unfinished buildings,” he said.

Also in Homs, activists uncovered 39 bodies in the Rifai sector of town, said Abdullah. They had probably been killed at the same time as the 48 women and children whose mutilated bodies the FSA found in Homs on March 12.

At the time, the opposition charged it was a massacre carried out by government forces after their capture of Baba Amr, while Damascus said it was the work of “armed terrorist gangs,” which it blames for the year-long revolt.

Sixteen of the bodies in the latest find all came from the same family, said the activist on the ground.

The Observatory said four soldiers were killed on Wednesday in the Sultaniyeh district of the city, while four civilians had been also killed in the town of Talbisseh, in the province of Homs.

Elsewhere, Syrian troops surrounded Taftanaz and opened fire on rebels in the town in Idlib province in northwest Syria, rebel sources said, adding that outnumbered FSA withdrew.

Rebel fighters, lightly armed, have been on the retreat from cities since the start of March in the face of the far superior firepower of government forces.

The Observatory said at least 23 people, including 15 civilians, were killed in army operations and clashes with deserters across the country on Wednesday. Among them, two children were shot dead in the central province of Hama.

Overnight, fierce clashes erupted in the Damascus suburb of Harasta between rebels and security forces near an air force intelligence post, the Observatory said. It reported heavy machinegun fire, without giving a casualty toll.

Deadly twin suicide car bombings targeting security buildings in Damascus on Saturday killed 27 people, the interior ministry said.

An Islamist group, the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, claimed responsibility for the car bombings to avenge the Syrian regime’s “massacre of Sunnis,” in a statement posted online.

AFP could not verify the authenticity of the statement or of reports from monitors as Syrian authorities restrict the movements of foreign media.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said an unspecified number of security officials and civilians were killed in a suicide car bombing on Tuesday in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the uprising.

The Observatory says more than 9,100 people have been killed in the year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad that started with peaceful protests before turning into an armed revolt in the face of a brutal crackdown.