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Wave of Syrian violence called 'massacre,' comes ahead of U.N. vote

February 4, 2012 |  7:37 am

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT— Fresh violence was reported Saturday across Syria as opposition activists alleged that security forces had committed a “massacre” in the battlefield city of Homs, leaving more than 200 dead during a bombardment that began late Friday.

The Syrian government denounced the accounts as “lies and fabrications” meant to influence a crucial United Nations Security Council vote on Syria scheduled to take place Saturday in New York.

The council is expected to vote on a measure supported by Arab nations and the West, including the United States, that would condemn the government of Bashar Assad for its bloody crackdown on protesters.

Russia, which wields veto power on the council, reportedly still objected to some portions of the measure, though diplomats have watered down an original draft that would have called on Assad to cede power to his deputy. It was unclear whether Russia, a long-time ally of the Assad family leadership, would exercise its veto power.

According to the opposition, the new wave of deaths in Homs occurred in a sustained mortar attack on the Khalidiya neighborhood, a rebel stronghold. Video purporting to show bodies and destroyed buildings in the aftermath was circulating on the Internet.

One opposition group, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, said 225 mortar shells had hit the Homs district, destroying a dozen buildings and killing at least 285. Medical and relief supplies had run out in the district, the network said. Some reports indicated people were still buried in the rubble.

If the opposition accounts are accurate, the daily death toll would be the highest to date for a 24-hour period during the 10-month rebellion against Assad’s rule. More than 5,000 people have died since the uprising began, according to the United Nations.

News of the alleged massacre prompted outraged Syrians abroad to storm Syrian embassies in Cairo, London and Kuwait, Reuters reported, while protesters rallied outside Syrian missions in Germany, Greece and the United States.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe denounced Syrian authorities for having taken “a further step in savagery,” reported Agence France-Presse.

Opposition activists reported new government assaults on Saturday, especially in the combustible suburbs of Damascus, where security forces have been battling armed rebels for the last week. The opposition Local Coordinating Committees said six had been killed at a funeral in the town of Daraya outside Damascus, the capital.

There was no independent corroboration of opposition accounts of casualties.  Much of Syria is closed to the international media, making it difficult to confirm casualty tolls in the ongoing violence.

The reports that government forces had shelled a civilian neighborhood in Homs with great loss of life  prompted the Tunisian government to declare it was planning to suspend the Syrian ambassador from Tunis and suspend its recognition of the Syrian regime.


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Photo: A protester holds a megaphone and a toy gun outside the Syrian Embassy in London. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press