Lull in Homs shelling allows protests, exodus

Heavy shelling in Homs has killed hundreds this week as an 11-month uprising rages nationwide against Bashar al-Assad`s rule.

Amman: Syrian security forces eased their week-long bombardment of the central city of Homs on Sunday and let a few families leave opposition districts while thousands of protesters crowded the streets overnight, activists said.

Heavy shelling in Homs has killed hundreds this week as an 11-month uprising rages nationwide against minority Alawite Shi`ite President Bashar al-Assad`s rule.

"Around 15 families were allowed to leave from Baba Amro and Inshaat," opposition campaigner Mohammad al-Hassan said by telephone from Homs.

Security forces had allowed the Sunni Muslim families out during the lull, he said, but apart from the mass protests people were not venturing out of their homes.

"Heavy artillery has given way to sporadic anti aircraft gun fire overnight, and rumours are being circulated by the regime that it is okay to go out in the streets today, but no one is doing that because no one believes them," he said.

Electricity and telephone lines were working in several districts of Homs after being cut off more than two weeks ago.

YouTube footage showed a crowd of several thousand people rallying in the Deir Baalba district, where a loyalist forces` roadblock was dismantled after it came under repeated attack by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Youths with their arms around each others` shoulders danced and waved the green and white flags of the republic overthrown by Assad`s Baath Party in a 1963 coup.

"God damn your soul, to hell with you Bashar. Our martyrs are going to heaven, Hafez and Bashar," they chanted, referring to the President and his father.

The lull came a day after a truce was struck between loyalist forces and rebels in the town of Zabadani near Damascus after a week of shelling by Assad`s troops. Opposition sources say no similar negotiations have taken place in Homs.

Ministers from the Arab League, which suspended Syria in response to the crackdown, will meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss forming a joint UN-Arab monitoring team in place of an Arab League observer mission that was suspended last month.

Bureau Report