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Syria Steps Up Homs Attack; Assad Blames ‘Foreign Sides’

Syria’s army escalated its shelling of the city of Homs as President Bashar al-Assad accused “foreign sides” of providing weapons and money to rebels.

The army killed 65 people across the country, including 41 during heavy bombardment of Homs, Al Arabiya reported, citing opposition activists. The city, under siege for almost three weeks, was hit by 200 tank shells today, it said. Security forces fired on 2,500 demonstrators at Aleppo University, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement today.

Government forces have intensified efforts to stamp out the rebellion by using mortars, artillery and tanks. The United Nations estimates more than 5,400 Syrians died last year as loyalist forces cracked down on protests that began in March. Twenty people were killed yesterday across the country, according to the Syrian Observatory.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain is ready to press for more measures against Assad. “There have been round after round of sanctions but we’re determined to go further,” Cameron told reporters in London after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy today.

The EU needs to act “to ensure we have a Syria with a future free from Assad, who has been butchering his people,” Cameron said.

Stiffer Sanctions

EU governments are moving toward stiffer sanctions on Syria. The 27-nation bloc is considering a freeze on central bank assets and a ban on imports of phosphates and precious metals, an EU official told reporters in Brussels on Feb. 8 on condition of anonymity. The Arab League has already suspended Syria and imposed economic sanctions against it.

Assad accused unidentified foreign interests of providing weapons and financial support to “armed terrorist groups” as they seek to destabilize Syria, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported yesterday. The government has blamed the violence on terrorists and foreign provocateurs.

Russia won’t take part in a meeting on Syria being held in Tunis this week, the Foreign Ministry said on its website today. The U.S., the EU and the Arab League, which backed a UN resolution calling on Assad to step down in favor of an interim government that would hold elections, will attend the “Friends of Syria” meeting. Russia and China vetoed the resolution earlier this month.

40,000 Deserters

The meeting will discuss tightening the economic stranglehold on Syria, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC on Feb. 19.

The conflict is escalating into a civil war as more soldiers defect and take up arms against Assad’s rule. About 40,000 people have deserted the regime’s 270,000-person security forces, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official.

Gunmen killed Mahmoud Ramadan, a businessman in Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city, SANA said. Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council’s executive bureau, told Al Jazeera television that his brother was killed by security agents for being an opponent of the Assad regime.

The attack came a day after gunmen killed Public Prosecutor Nidal Ghazal, Judge Mohammed Ziyadeh and their driver in Idlib.

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