‘Massacre’ feared brewing in Syrian city

 Pro-regime supporters hold up flag showing President al-Assad at a rally in Damascus, while opposition leaders warn of a brutal crackdown by the military.

Pro-regime supporters hold up flag showing President al-Assad at a rally in Damascus, while opposition leaders warn of a brutal crackdown by the military.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Syrian National Council warns a government operation appears imminent in Homs
  • At least 30 people died in Syria on Friday, 15 in Homs
  • The council says the regime is working to stoke sectarian strife
  • The Human Rights Watch issued a report on abuse in Homs

(CNN) — Syria’s leading opposition movement warned Friday of an impending government “massacre” designed to crush activists in the city of Homs, a metropolis that has emerged as a center of anti-regime unrest.

The Syrian National Council said military troops and vehicles have surrounded the western city and thousands of troops are manning more than 60 checkpoints just inside the city

“These are all signs of a security crackdown operation that may reach the level of a total invasion of the city,” the council said in a news release. It warned that a “massive number of casualties” could occur.

“Evidence received from reports, videos and information obtained by activists on the ground in Homs indicate that the regime is paving the way to commit a massacre in order to extinguish the Revolution in Homs and to discipline, by example, other Syrian cities that have joined the Revolution,” the council said.

Homs suffered more deaths on Friday, with at least 15 slain, and at least 15 others were killed during disturbances elsewhere across Syria, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an activist group. It said women, children and dissident soldiers were among those killed.

The United Nations said last week that more than 4,000 people have died in Syria since a brutal government crackdown against protesters erupted in mid-March. The regime’s actions have outraged world powers and sparked sanctions by the Arab League, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The council said the Bashar al-Assad regime is “driving violent sectarian incidents to justify this potential murder.”

The city of Homs is in a province of the same name. The region is populated by Sunnis, who make up the majority in Syria, and Alawites, a minority heterodox Muslim group that holds sway in the military and the government. The region also has a Christian presence.

More than 30 corpses were found in Homs on Monday, all thought to be victims of sectarian violence.

“The regime has tried hard to ignite the sectarian conflict using many dirty methods, which have included bombing and burning mosques, torturing and killing young men, and kidnapping women and children,” the Syrian National Council said in its news release. “The regime also took a significant step today … in burning oil pipelines in the neighborhood of Baba Amr to blame what the regime calls ‘armed gangs’ in an attempt to crush the peaceful uprising on the pretext of a war on terrorism.” A strike on a pipeline was reported on Thursday.

The council likens what the regime has planned to the 1982 government assault on the city of Hama, an operation that left thousands dead. It was led then-president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father.

“We hold accountable the regime, and behind it the Arab League and the International Community, of what could happen to innocent civilians in the next few hours or days, and the implications for the region as a whole in the near future,” the council said.

The Human Rights Watch last month issued a report detailing “the systematic nature of abuses against civilians in Homs by Syrian government forces.”

The International Crisis Group issued a report on Syria in July, saying “Homs had become a miniature Syria, a microcosm of its numerous problems.”

“Its economic dynamism benefited only a narrow circle of people,” the report said. The swelling number of migrants who lived in the city’s outskirts suffered from declining services and living standards. The security services, predominantly controlled by and staffed with Alawites, earned a particularly bad reputation.

“If the picture appeared reasonably positive to one who visited the centre of the city, for most of its underprivileged residents it was appalling,” the report said.

(edition.cnn.com / 09.12.2011)

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