x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tanks put Syrian city of Homs under siege as UN urges action

UN's Ban Ki-moon says President Bashar Al Assad must take 'bold and decisive measures before it is too late' over repression and killings.

A grab from an undated handout video made available by Shaam News Network on its Youtube channel, shows Syrian security forces clashing with protesters after the Eid al Fitr prayers, allegedly in the Nakhl area of Deraa, Syria. EPA/SHAAM NEWS NETWORK/HANDOUT
A grab from an undated handout video made available by Shaam News Network on its Youtube channel, shows Syrian security forces clashing with protesters after the Eid al Fitr prayers, allegedly in the Nakhl area of Deraa, Syria. EPA/SHAAM NEWS NETWORK/HANDOUT

BEIRUT // Syrian soldiers rolled through Homs in armoured vehicles yesterday shooting randomly, activists said, as the UN secretary-general urged nations to take action on Syria.

Ban Ki-moon delivered some of his strongest statements yet condemning the violence, saying President Bashar Al Assad must take "bold and decisive measures before it is too late".

"It is already too late, in fact," Mr Ban said in New Zealand, where he was attending a meeting of Pacific leaders. "If it takes more and more days, then more people will be killed."

The UN says 2,200 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March, inspired by the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. But nearly six months later, the violence in Syria has descended into a bloody stalemate with neither side willing to back down.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said yesterday that an unspecified number of wounded Syrian detainees weren't getting the urgent medical care they needed.

The ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger, spoke after his Geneva-based group visited a Syrian prison over the weekend, the first time it has been granted such access in more than 40 years of operating in the country.

Mr Kellenberger met with Mr Al Assad on Monday and won permission to visit Damascus Central Prison, where the Red Cross has said Syrian authorities estimated about 6,000 detainees are being held.

Yesterday, the Syrian activist network known as The Local Coordination Committees said Homs residents were hiding in homes and offices to escape the gunfire.

Homs has seen some of the largest protests against the regime. Citing witnesses on the ground, the activist network said armoured vehicles were rolling through the city and "shooting toward anything moving".

Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media during the revolt, which poses the most serious challenge to the Al Assad family's four-decade rule.

Activist accounts and videos posted online are vital sources of information, but it is nearly impossible to independently confirm the reports.

The regime blames the protests on thugs and armed gangs and claims security forces are the real victims, not true reform-seekers.

The government's violent crackdown on dissent has led to broad international sanctions aimed at isolating the regime.