Arabs back Syria Oppn; Homs bombardment resumes
Cairo/Amman: Syrian forces resumed their bombardment of the city of Homs on Monday after Arab countries called for UN peacekeepers and pledged their firm support for the opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Opposition campaigners said tank fire was concentrated on two large Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods that have been at the forefront of opposition to Assad. They said 23 people were killed on Sunday after a lull in shelling the previous day.
The government's assault on Homs has spurred Arab countries to ostracize Assad and promise tougher action. At a meeting in Cairo on Sunday, Arab League foreign ministers pledged for the first time to aid the opposition battling to overthrow Assad.
The League also called on the UN Security Council to authorize a peacekeeping force, a challenge to Russia and China which have so far used their veto power to block action by the world body, most recently on February 4.
In Homs, government troops concentrated their fire on Baba Amro neighbourhood in the south of the city and al-Waer in the West, which borders the Military College, a main assembly point for tanks and government troops, opposition campaigners said.
"Tank shelling has been non-stop on Baba Amro and the bombardment on al-Wear began overnight," activist Mohammad al-Hassan said by phone.
He said al-Waer, scene of large pro-democracy demonstrations for months, had come under attack in the last several days from pro-Assad militia known as shabbiha.
"We heard that the Free Syrian Army has started responding by attacking roadblocks being manned by shabbiha. Communications with al-Waer have been cut off and the sound of shelling can be now heard," Hassan said.
The Free Syrian Army, led by defectors, has taken the main role in armed opposition to Assad's government. Accounts on the ground are difficult to verify because Syria restricts access by journalists.
The resolution approved by Arab League ministers in Cairo called for "opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it," a remarkable statement from a body once known for keeping out of the internal affairs of its members.
The Arab League has turned decisively against Assad, led by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies who have long resented Assad's close ties to Shi'ite regional rival Iran.
The resolution did not spell out whether its proposed joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force would involve armed troops, or whether the aid offered to the opposition would include weapons.
If so, it would be the second time in less than a year the Arab League had called for outside intervention in an Arab state. Its decision to back a no-fly zone in Libya last March led to Western bombing that helped bring down Muammar Gaddafi.
Syria's uprising, in which the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died, has become one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring revolts sweeping the region since the end of 2010.
Any peacekeeping mission would require consensus from foreign powers, who have been divided on how to resolve a conflict that is descending into a civil war.