Assad Strikes Opposition Cities as Syria Measures Compete

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters, “Right now, all that concerns us is to stop the bloodshed in Syria.” Photographer: Angelika Warmuth/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces attacked cities where the opposition is concentrated as countries including Turkey, France and Russia sought to present their own solutions to end the violence.

Syria’s army continued shelling Homs, killing at least 126 people, Al Jazeera reported today, and more than 300 people have died during Assad’s siege since Feb. 3, Human Rights Watch said today. More than 5,400 people have died since protests began last March, according to the United Nations.

Alleged images from the assault on Homs and activist reports of the suffering have sparked global outrage at the offensive and put pressure on countries to draft their own proposal to the 11-month crackdown. Russia and China on Feb. 4 vetoed a United Nations resolution to facilitate political transition in Syria.

“I am appalled by the Syrian government’s willful assault on Homs and its use of artillery and other heavy weaponry in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement from Geneva. There is an “extreme urgency for the international community to cut through the politics and take effective action to protect the Syrian population.”

Russia is seeking to broker talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, while China has suggested further cooperation at the UN. France is pressing for deepening ties with Syrian protesters.

Turkish Proposal

Turkey has called for a “broad-based” coalition that should include members of the UN Security Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Arab states, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

“Right now, all that concerns us is to stop the bloodshed in Syria,” he told reporters late yesterday at the airport in Ankara before leaving for the U.S. to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We have never supported an intervention from outside the region, we kept working to prevent it.”

As the Security Council voted on an Arab League plan backed by the U.S. and the European Union, Assad’s forces killed at least 174 people in one of the deadliest days since the unrest started, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The prospect of civil war has been growing as the daily death toll mounts and Assad uses tanks and artillery in cities where the opposition calls for the end of his rule.

‘All-Out Assault’

“It is clear the Syrian government has interpreted the Russia-China veto as a carte blanche to launch an all-out assault on cities like Homs without caring who’s killed in the process,” Anna Neistat, associate emergencies director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in today’s e-mailed statement. Assad’s forces fired “hundreds of shells and mortars into residential neighborhoods,” the organization said.

China is holding talks with Syrians including the opposition while urging Assad to honor pledges for reform, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said. Earlier today, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said China’s veto of the UN measure to facilitate a handover of power doesn’t preclude further cooperation with the U.S. and other Security Council members.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the international community must seek “coordinated approaches” to help Syrians resolve the crisis, according to a statement posted on the Kremlin’s website yesterday. The leaders’ telephone conversation followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s Feb. 7 visit to Damascus.

UN-Arab League Mission

The Arab League plans to resend observers to Syria and has asked for the UN to send a special envoy with its mission, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York yesterday.

While Ban said it was “not clear” if Assad would accept such a proposal, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin today that he proposed a joint Arab League-UN observer mission to Syria to try to stem the bloodshed. He also suggested naming a special UN envoy for the Syrian conflict.

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