REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Syrian opposition activists on Monday declared a “humanitarian disaster area” in the embattled city of Homs and called on the United Nations and Arab League to intervene and protect threatened civilians.
The opposition decried a 5-day-old siege of Syria’s third-largest city, which has become a hub of the rebellion and a reported site of sectarian massacres.
“Indiscriminate slaughter is being committed by the regime’s militias,” said the Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group that demands the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
Security forces have reportedly met stiff resistance from opposition gunmen — labeled terrorists by the government and freedom fighters by the opposition.
Government tanks and heavy weaponry have shelled a neighborhood, Bab Amr, where 40 people have been killed in recent days and dozens of homes destroyed, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, another opposition coalition. The death toll in Homs and environs in the last week or so exceeds 100, the opposition says.
One Homs activist said the Bab Amr district was the site Monday of large-scale security sweeps and arrests, with wounded at a neighborhood field clinic among those detained. Many detainees were held in a school, according to the activist, who said gunfire and shelling could be heard in many neighborhoods late Sunday and early Monday.
The siege has prevented the entry of food, medical supplies and other essentials, the opposition said, and residents have been trapped in their homes and, in some cases, unable to bury their dead. The opposition is seeking international assistance in providing aid, protecting civilians and evacuating residents.
“This is an extreme humanitarian crisis,” said Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, which was officially formed last month in Istanbul, Turkey.
There was no immediate response from the government, which blames the violence on armed Islamic militants funded from abroad.
The government has restricted access to journalists, making it difficult to verify what is happening in Homs and elsewhere in Syria, as the rebellion enters its eighth month.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Katie Paul
Photo: A protester faces police at Khalidia, near Homs, Syria, on Nov. 4, 2011. Credit: Reuters