Syrian Tanks Attack Homs; UN Probes Crimes
February 23, 2012
Syrian tanks pushed into a rebel-held district in the battered city of Homs Thursday, while a United Nations probe said Syrian leaders "at the highest levels" could face investigation for crimes against humanity.
Activists said rockets, shells and mortar rounds pounded the opposition neighborhood of Baba Amr, where food, water and medical supplies are running dangerously low. They said other Sunni Muslim districts, including Inshaat and Khalidiya, were attacked.
In the northwestern city of Aleppo, security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of students who had rallied for the funeral of a protester killed the day before. Aleppo, like the capital, Damascus, has remained relatively calm during the 11-month anti-government uprising.
In Geneva Thursday, U.N. investigators said they have a list of high-ranking officers and civilian officials who ordered Syrian forces to shoot unarmed protesters, torture detainees, shell residential areas and kill soldiers who refused these directives. The U.N. experts indicate the list goes as high as President Bashar al-Assad.
The commission said rebel forces led by the Free Syrian Army also had committed abuses, including killings and abductions, "although not comparable in scale."
The report to the U.N. Human Rights Council calls for people involved in the crimes to face prosecution. It also says 6,400 civilians and 1,680 army defectors were killed in Syria through mid-February.
The U.N. team quotes figures provided by the Violations Documentation Center, a network of activists in Syria and abroad.
Thursday's violence followed a day of relentless shelling in Homs and elsewhere that killed at least 74 people, including Marie Colvin, a prominent American war correspondent working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik.
Activists said several other journalists were wounded in the attack on a makeshift media center in Homs and that the center appeared to have been deliberately targeted.
In a video posted online Thursday by anti-regime activists, Edith Bouvier - a reporter for the French daily Le Figaro - said she needs urgent medical attention and asked to be evacuated quickly from Homs.
The Syrian government said it was not aware that the journalists were in the country. Assad's government does not permit foreign reporters to travel freely and has kept most of them out.
U.S. officials say a group of Western and Arab powers meeting in Tunisia Friday will challenge Assad to provide humanitarian access within days to civilians under assault by his forces.
The officials spoke before a "Friends of Syria" meeting expected to gather more than 70 nations and international groups. They did not say what specific consequences would follow if Syrian authorities failed to provide access.
The Tunis conference will explore further isolating Assad and his inner circle as well as boosting engagement with the Syrian opposition to help them prepare for an eventual democratic transition.
Russia and China, which have blocked U.N. action against Syria, say they will not attend the meeting.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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