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Syrian State Media Denies Army Role In Homs

February 04, 2012

Syrian state media is denying army forces are to blame for the reported killing of more than 200 people in the central city of Homs.

Human rights groups say government forces have killed at least 217 people and left hundreds wounded in a February 3 shelling attack on the city, a center of unrest during nearly a year of violence in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has called the attack a "massacre" and that several neighborhoods had been targeted by intense mortar fire.

The German news agency DPA cites local activists in Homs that the shelling has subsided on February 4, but sniper fire continues.

Activists have also suggested the death toll may be as high as 260. There was no way to independently confirm details of the reported attack and death toll in Homs.

The state-run news agency SANA on February 4 blamed the deaths on "armed terrorist groups" and called reports of army involvement a "distortion" and an attempt by satellite television channels to falsify information.

Embassy Protests

The reported violence in Homs triggered protests outside Syrian embassies in a number of major cities around the world, including Berlin, Cairo, and London.

In Washington, D.C., a crowd on protesters gathered around the Syrian Embassy late on February 3, chanting slogans and calling for an end to the regime of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

One of the protesters, Mohammad Kousha, a native of Syria living in the American capital, said news of the Homs violence was "horrible."

"The military, army, and security forces are killing protesters, although they're just peaceful protesters. They're collapsing buildings, they're firing at mosques, they're firing at churches," Kousha said.

"They're destroying anybody and any building that might just ask for freedom, and that's totally unacceptable."

The intense violence in Homs comes as the UN Security Council is preparing to vote on a resolution condemning the government crackdown in Syria. The council is due to vote on February 4 after days of talks on the wording of the document.

The text, drafted by European and Arab countries, does not explicitly call on Assad to step down or mention an arms embargo or sanctions, but calls on the Security Council to "fully support" an Arab League plan to facilitate a democratic transition.

Russia, a permanent member of the council, has already indicated it will oppose the resolution despite changes to the draft. ITAR-TASS cites Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Russia does not agree with the resolution and has warned of a "scandal" if the draft is brought to a vote.

It is not clear whether the comments meant that Russia, which holds a permanent seat on the Security Council, would veto the resolution or abstain from voting.

The violence in Syria on February 3 came as thousands of people across the country defied the government crackdown to commemorate a 1982 massacre in the central city of Hama, in which thousands were killed.

The UN says more than 5,400 people have been killed in violence since March. Hundreds more have been killed since that tally was announced, including those reported in Homs.


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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