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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syria's Homs Sees Heaviest Shelling in Days

February 14, 2012

VOA News

Syrian government forces have renewed their assault on the flashpoint city of Homs in what activists say is the heaviest shelling in days, after a warning by the U.N. human rights chief that the onslaught could amount to "crimes against humanity."

The Local Coordination Committees opposition group Tuesday described Homs as under "brutal shelling," with at least six people reported killed. Witnesses said food and fuel are scarce and most shops are shut due to the relentless mortar and rocket fire that has trapped people in their homes.

The attack has particularly targeted the rebel-held Sunni Muslim district of Baba Amr, an area at the heart of the 11-month anti-government uprising. Internet videos showed black smoke and flames as shells crashed into buildings. Hundreds have been reported killed in Homs since the government began bombarding rebel-held districts.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the Security Council's failure to act has "emboldened" President Bashar al-Assad's government to launch an all-out assault.

Syrian officials have blamed "armed terrorists" for the revolt against Assad, and the foreign ministry Tuesday rejected Pillay's claim that the crackdown amounts to crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said China is "not protecting any party, including the government of Syria." He told EU leaders in Beijing Tuesday the Syrian people must decide their own future.

China and Russia have faced a barrage of criticism for vetoing an Arab- and Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution calling for Assad to step aside and allow the formation of a unity government to prepare for democratic elections.

Diplomats at the United Nations said a draft General Assembly resolution which supports an Arab League plan calling for the appointment of a joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria could be put to a vote Wednesday or Thursday. There are no vetoes in General Assembly votes and its decisions are not legally binding.

The Obama administration said Monday it is in talks with international partners about the league's latest proposal to deploy an international peacekeeping force in Syria.

Damascus has rejected the Arab peacekeeping idea, saying it reflects the "hysteria" of Arab governments who have failed to achieve a Security Council resolution authorizing foreign intervention in Syria.

But Arab League diplomats say arming Syrian opposition forces is an option they are considering if diplomatic efforts fail. Smuggled weapons are already filtering into Syria, but it is not clear who is behind the deliveries. Iraqi officials have said Sunni Muslim insurgents are also moving from northern Iraq into Syria.

The United Nations said last month that violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,400 people. U.N. officials stopped updating the death toll in January, saying it was too difficult to obtain information. Rights groups say hundreds more people have been killed since then.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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