Syria Extends Assault on Homs as UN General Assembly Set to Vote on Assad
Syrian security forces extended a two-week artillery attack on the city of Homs the same day that the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The army also deployed armored vehicles and raided homes in Qaboun, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, and carried out attacks in the southern province of Daraa, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least 10 defectors and four civilians were killed today in Hama from shelling, the observatory said. The Local Coordination Committees, a group that opposes Assad, said at least 32 were killed yesterday.
The non-binding resolution in the 193-member General Assembly follows Russian and Chinese vetoes on Feb. 4 of a motion in the Security Council, the UN’s decision-making body. Syria’s army has intensified attacks since that resolution was vetoed, according to activists, increasing the risk that a conflict that has already left thousands dead will slide further into civil war as soldiers defect and sectarian splits widen.
Assad has blamed the revolt, which is the strongest challenge to his rule since he took office after his father died in 2000, on “terrorists” and foreign enemies. The government yesterday announced a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution. A draft published on the Syrian Arab News Agency’s website promises “political pluralism” and democratic elections and would limit presidents to two seven-year terms.
“The most obvious problem with Assad’s intention to hold a nationwide poll on February 26 is simply the logistics of organizing a credible referendum when government control of large parts of the country is contested,” said David Hartwell, Middle East political analyst for London-based IHS Jane’s, a unit of IHS Inc.
Mazen Darwish, a human rights activist, was arrested today at his Damascus office along with his wife, Syrian opposition leader Louay Hussein said in a phone interview. Darwish was also detained at the start of the revolt last year and later released as Assad tried to ease tensions by setting political prisoners free, appointing a new government and lifting a 48 year-old emergency law put in place when the ruling Baath Party came to power in a coup.
The Arab League has called for the formation of an Arab-UN peacekeeping force, a proposal rejected by Syria. Russia would support a UN role in Syrian peacekeeping if outside intervention isn’t allowed and the opposition agrees to a cease-fire, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.
China’s vice foreign minister, Zhai Jun, will travel to Syria on Feb. 17-18 for talks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in Beijing today. China will “play a constructive role in the mediation” of the conflict, Liu said.
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