"Insane escalation" of violence in Syria reported



Beirut: A surge in violence in the restive Syrian city of Homs has killed up to 50 people in the past 24 hours, leaving dozens of bodies in the streets, activists said Tuesday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited witnesses as saying 34 bodies were dumped in the streets of Homs on Monday night. Homs-based activist Mohammed Saleh said there was a spate of kidnappings and killings in the city earlier Monday.

The activists' reports could not be independently confirmed. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevents the work of independent media.

For nearly nine months, the Syrian government has been trying to crush an uprising against President Bashar Assad. But there are growing signs of an armed insurgency and mounting sectarian tensions that could push the country toward civil war.

Homs has emerged as the epicenter of the uprising, and the government has laid siege to the city for months.

On Monday, Syria said it would agree to allow Arab League observers into the country as part of a plan to end the bloodshed, but placed a number of conditions, including the cancellation of deeply embarrassing economic sanctions by the 22-member organization.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby swiftly rebuffed Damascus' demands, and the Syrian opposition accused Assad's regime of wasting time and trying to trick Arab leaders into reversing punitive measures against Damascus.

"Any announcements made by the Syrian regime while the military crackdown continues has for us zero credibility," said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group.

Syria has already failed to meet several Arab League ultimatums to end the crackdown which the UN says has killed more than 4,000 people since the uprising against Assad erupted in March.

Damascus' failure to meet a Nov 25 deadline to allow in observers drew Arab League sanctions, including a ban on dealings with the country's central bank and a freeze on government assets. The bloc also imposed a travel ban on 19 Syrian officials, including Assad's younger brother Maher, who is believed to be in command of much of the crackdown, as well as Cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs and security officers.

The sanctions dealt a big blow to a regime that sees itself as a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

Combined with sanctions from the United States, the European Union and Turkey, the Arab League's penalties are expected to inflict significant damage on Syria's economy and may undercut the regime's authority.

Bureau Report