Over 200 people have been killed in the city of Homs, an epicenter of anti-government protests, in an attack that began late Friday night. Security forces seeking to regain control of the city shelled its Khalidya district with tanks and mortars and women and children were among the dead, says the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Syrian government has denied attacking and dismissed activists’ claims as propaganda, says the BBC.
The black and white contrast in activists’ accounts and the Syrian regime’s claims has been going on since the uprising started almost eleven months ago. Death tolls between 217 and 260 have been reported and are not possible to confirm, due to Syria forbidding foreign journalists to report from the country. But the death toll in Homs is the deadliest yet. Over 5,400 have been killed since the uprising began last March according to the United Nations; the Syrian government has emphasized that over 2,000 soldiers have died.
President Barack Obama has issued a forceful statement about the violence in Syria, says Politico:
I strongly condemn the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs and I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately.
On Saturday morning, the United Nations Security Council is expected to meet to vote on a resolution demanding that President Bashar al-Assad step down and transfer power to a unity government. Western and Arab nations have been calling for Assad to go, but Russia, which holds a permanent seat on the Security Council and is a long-time ally of Syria, has indicated that it will veto any such request. French foreign minister Alain Juppé described the massacre in Homs as a “crime against humanity,” while the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that calling for Assad’s ouster would occasion “another scandal at the security council.”
Protesters stormed the Syrian embassy in Cairo and demonstrations also broke out in Britain, Germany and the United States. In London, people threw stones and smashed the windows of the Syrian embassy and six people were arrested; people in Washington, D.C., shouted “Syria soon will be free.”
The capital of Damascus, which was relatively free of protests and unrest until December when two car bombs exploded, has started to feel the effects of the uprising. Electricity is being rationed and people are stocking up on milk, rice, sugar, cooking oil and drinking water. Prices have risen as much as three times as they were a year ago. 60-year-old Abu Omar, a shopkeeper, told the New York Times of searching for hours with his son for bread, only to find none in stores:
“Pretty soon we will start demonstrating against poverty and not politics. The people are very angry at the government. We can live without electricity and gas, but we can’t live without bread.”
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