REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Syrian opposition groups on Thursday blamed security forces for at least 30 more deaths, including 15 in the besieged region of Homs — where the government reported that “life is normal” and children are enjoying the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Wildly contradictory accounts from the opposition and Syrian authorities are part of the daily routine in a conflict now entering its eighth month, with no end in sight.
Both sides routinely cite death figures that cannot be independently verified because the government has restricted journalists and others from entering Syria.
The United Nations has blamed a "brutal" crackdown by the government of President Bashar Assad for the deaths of more than 3,500 people since protests erupted in March. Opposition activists accuse security forces of indiscriminately firing at civilians.The government says "terrorists" have killed more than 1,000 security officers.
Among the victims Thursday was a baby in Homs who died of severe bleeding in his colon “after security refused to allow blood to be delivered to a hospital,” according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group.
Five people were killed in Hama, north of Homs, and nine in the northwestern province of Idlib, the opposition said.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency also reported more deaths, though it blamed them on “terrorists.”
In Moallaqa village in Idlib province, the news agency reported, two brothers, ages 8 and 10, were killed “after explosives hidden by a terrorist armed group in an abandoned house” blew up.
“Even innocent children could not escape the heinous crimes of the terrorists,” the boys’ uncle, Mohammad Olwan, was quoted as saying by the news agency.
According to opposition groups, security forces have laid siege to their strongholds in Homs during the last 10 days, cutting basic services and leaving scores dead. The opposition has declared Homs a “humanitarian disaster area” and called for international help.
But the government news agency said in a news release Thursday that it had interviewed Homs’ bakery director, its water chief and the head of the “Cleanness Department.” All came back with the same news: Everything is working well, “contrary to what some provocative channels broadcast.”
Pan-Arab satellite channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have reported extensively — the Syrian government says untruthfully — on the Syrian unrest.
By all accounts, Homs needed a lot of work. Municipal officials were making repairs to communications infrastructure damaged in “acts of sabotage at the hands of terrorist groups,” the official news agency reported. And maintenance men were out removing “the debris and roadblocks set up by the armed groups in some streets.”
The opposition has described two Homs neighborhoods, Bab Amr and Bab al Siba, as having weathered days of siege and shelling by government forces.
But residents of the two districts interviewed by the official news agency “stressed that life is normal, shops are open, all basic needs are available and the children are enjoying their Eid holiday.”
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: An image purporting to show Syrian soldiers at a checkpoint in Hula, near Homs, on Nov. 4, 2011. Credit: Reuters