x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Syrian troops intensify shelling of Homs

Activists say conditions are so dangerous that 1,000 families need to be evacuated, along with dozens of wounded people who can't get proper medical treatment.

BEIRUT // Syrian troops intensified their shelling of rebel-held neighbourhoods in Homs yesterday, according to activists.

They said conditions are so bad that 1,000 families need to be evacuated, along with dozens of wounded people who can't get proper medical treatment.

Homs has been under siege for a week, part of a escalation of violence that forced the 300-member UN observer force in Syria to call off its patrols.

"The humanitarian situation in Homs is very difficult," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who leads the British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). "It is very clear that the army wants to retake Homs."

SOHR asked the UN on Saturday to intervene in the violence in Homs and evacuate more than 1,000 families whose lives are in danger. It also said dozens of wounded people in rebel-controlled areas cannot get medicine or doctors to treat them.

Maj Gen Robert Mood, the chief of the observer mission, said on Saturday that intensifying clashes over the past 10 days were "posing significant risks" to the unarmed observers and impeding their ability to carry out their mandate.

The observers' decision came after weeks of escalating attacks, including reports of several mass killings that have left dozens dead.

The observers had been the only working part of a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, which the international community sees as its only hope to stop the bloodshed.

The plan called for the monitors to check compliance with a ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect on April 12. They have become the most reliable independent witnesses to the carnage on both sides as government and rebel forces have largely ignored the truce.

The statement calling off observer patrols reinforced fears that Syria is sliding into civil war, 15 months after the rebellion to oust president Bashar Al Assad began. Opposition groups said more than 14,000 civilians and rebels have been killed since the uprising.

In Turkey, the leader of Syria's main opposition group, Abdulbaset Sieda, said during a speech that the suspension of the observers' activities shows that "the international community has given up hope on this regime that is in its last days." He added that Mr Al Assad's government had lost control over large areas and "it's now suffering from confusion and committing more crimes as revenge".

"The international community must bear its ... responsibilities to take decisive decisions through the [UN] security council," said Mr Sieda.

The Syrian government has been waging a fierce offensive through towns and villages for the past week, trying to pound out rebels by shelling urban areas with tanks and attack helicopters. Rebels also have attacked Syrian forces, mostly trying to burn out their tanks.