x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Families flee Homs after 45 killed

Syria's information minister, Adnan Mahmoud, accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting "terrorists".

Free Syrian Army fighters scramble amid smoke from tank shelling during fighting with government forces in Idlib on Sunday.
Free Syrian Army fighters scramble amid smoke from tank shelling during fighting with government forces in Idlib on Sunday.

BEIRUT // Syrian government forces have killed up to 45 people, including women and children, in the battered city of Homs, Syrian opposition activicists said yesterday.

But the state news agency, Sana, blamed the killings of "scores of civilians" on "terrorist groups".

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a Syrian opposition group, said 45 people were "murdered".

Opposition activists said the killings occurred on Sunday night in the Homs neighbourhood of Karm El Zeytoun. They accused "shabiha" - armed supporters of the regime of President Bashar Al Assad - of carrying out the killings and said the throats of some of the dead had been slit and bodies bore signs of stab wounds.

The killings prompted hundreds of families to flee the city, fearing repeat attacks, activists said.

"The regime aims to terrify people and put down the revolution," said Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso.

These accounts cannot be independently verified.

In a report published yesterday, Sana said "terrorist armed groups" kidnapped and then killed "scores of civilians", before filming the bodies "to be shown by media outlets".

The Al Assad regime blames the year-long crisis in the country on what it describes as foreign-backed armed terrorists.

Yesterday, Syria's information minister, Adnan Mahmoud, said Saudi Arabia and Qatar were both supporting "terrorists".

Some of the countries backing armed terrorist gangs, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are accomplices to the terrorism targeting the Syrian people ... and bear responsibility for the bloodletting," he said.

As the country prepares to mark the first anniversary of the uprising on Thursday, government forces are pressing ahead with new assaults to regain control particularly in central and northern parts of Syria.

The province of Idlib has been the target of heavy shelling in the past few days, according to activists.

The latest killings and the military assaults, came as Kofi Annan, the joint Arab League-United Nations special envoy to Syria and former United Nations chief, left Damascus on Sunday.

Mr Annan met Mr Al Assad twice, but failed to secure a ceasefire nor did he announce any substantive progress in efforts to end the violence that the UN says has killed more than 7,500. The government says 2,000 of its forces have also been killed.

A spokesperson for Mr Annan said the special envoy felt his mission to Syria was on track despite the continuation of the deadly violence.

"This is the beginning of a process and the joint special envoy feels the process is on the right track," said Ahmed Fawzi. "He has left a set of concrete proposals with Bashar on a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and political dialogue, and expects to hear from him shortly.

"He is concerned that the fighting and the killing seem to be continuing while he is trying to put an end to it and while he is trying to talk to Bashar."

Mr Annan was in Doha yesterday to discuss the situation in Syria with Qatari officials, before heading to Turkey.

Sana, also reported yesterday a diesel pipeline between Homs and the area of Hama was blown up.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government said yesterday it had received reports suggesting Syrian authorities were laying fresh mines in some areas on their side of the joint border, in an apparent effort to keep people from fleeing to Turkey.

Some Turkish border posts had seen activity on the Syrian side that looked like minelaying, a Turkish diplomat said, adding he had no direct confirmation of the reported Syrian activity.

He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment publicly.

Referring to earlier reports of new Syrian landmines along the borders with Jordan and Lebanon, the diplomat said it would not be a surprise if Syrian security forces also put fresh mines along the 900 kilometres of border with Turkey.

"The reason is to keep people from fleeing or to make it costly for them," the diplomat said.

Many former minefields on the Turkish-Syrian border had been cleared in the past 10 years during a period of improvement in bilateral relations.


* With additional reports by Thomas Seibert in Istanbul, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse