REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- A massacre has claimed the lives of dozens of civilians in the central Syrian city of Homs, the Syrian government and opposition activists said Monday. Each side blamed the other for the latest episode of carnage from the beleaguered town.
Opposition advocates said security services killed as many as 53 people, all but six of them women and children. Dissident groups said most of the dead were from the Homs neighborhood of Karm al-Zeitoun, a frequent site of clashes between security forces and armed rebels seeking to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency in turn reported that “terrorist armed groups” in Homs had kidnapped and killed “scores of civilians,” mutilated their bodies and filmed them in a bid to circulate the images worldwide and discredit the government.
Gruesome images purporting to show the victims lying in a blood-drenched room were published on the Internet and aired on Syrian state television. Syrian TV also aired video of apparent execution victims lying face-down on the rubble-strewn streets of Homs, all with their hands tied behind their backs.
Opposition activists have alleged that government troops and paramilitary units have regularly committed revenge killings in Homs, a center of the rebellion against Assad. The government has blamed “terrorists” for killings in Homs and elsewhere in Syria during the almost year-long rebellion, which has left at least 7,500 dead, according to the United Nations.
The official news agency quoted several Homs residents identifying the latest dead as persons who had been kidnapped, in one case more than three months ago. Syrian television aired what it presented as interviews with Homs residents complaining that “armed groups” had terrorized their neighborhoods for months before being driven out by Syrian security forces.
Both sides in the conflict have been kidnapping civilians, often holding victims hostage to exchange them for prisoners held by opposing forces, human rights groups say.
Word Monday of the latest massacre comes a day after a special peace envoy, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, left Damascus without securing a cease-fire or entry for humanitarian aid. Annan nonetheless said he was “optimistic” some progress had been made in a bid to end the violence.
U.N. Security Council members were scheduled to meet Monday in New York to discuss the Arab revolts of the past year, with a likely focus on Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were expected to be at the U.N. session. Russia and China last month vetoed a U.S.-backed Security Council resolution that called on Assad to relinquish power. Russia is backing a new peace initiative that rules out foreign intervention in Syria and does not require that Assad cede power.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube claims to show shelling by government forces of the Karm al-Zeitoun and Rifai neighbourhoods in the flashpoint central Syrian city of Homs on Sunday. Credit: Agence France-Presse / YouTube.