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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syrian Forces Shell Homs, Block Aid to Rebel Stronghold

Edward Yeranian | Cairo March 03, 2012

Syrian government forces shelled at least four neighborhoods of Homs Saturday, as the International Red Cross appealed to Syrian authorities to allow aid workers to enter embattled city's devastated Bab Amr district.

Syria's official news agency also reported a suicide bombing in the southern city of Daraa, while opposition activists claimed that the government was responsible for the blast. Elsewhere, Arab satellite channels are reporting that more than 40 Syrian soldiers who tried to defect at an airbase in Idlib province were executed.

A Syrian government military offensive continued across parts of the country Saturday, including the sporadic shelling of parts of the beleaguered city of Homs. An elite government brigade captured the opposition stronghold of Bab Amr several days ago, but the government still does not control all of the city.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Saturday appealed to Syrian authorities to allow aid workers to enter Baba Amr.

On Friday, Syrian authorities stopped an ICRC convoy, consisting of seven trucks carrying medical supplies and food, from entering Baba Amr, where activists say the humanitarian situation is dire.

The Red Cross say they received permission on Thursday to bring aid to the people stranded in the district. But ICRC spokesman Sean Maguire told Britain's Sky News on Saturday that the organization still being blocked.

"We're being told it's not safe to proceed. Now we're trying to get to the bottom of that and get beyond that," said Maguire.

Meanwhile, Syrian state TV showed images of badly damaged buildings, shattered walls, and battered storefronts. It interviewed a number of people who claimed to be residents of Bab Amr who said they had been held hostage by "gangs of armed terrorists" from outside the area.

Despite eyewitness accounts that Syrian forces shelled the area for nearly a month causing many buildings to collapse, one middle-aged man told Syrian state TV that "armed gangs were responsible for all the damage in Bab Amr."

He says armed men were wearing masks and speaking a strange language that we couldn't understand. He claims that they were foreign mercenaries and had used U.S. dollars and Saudi riyals.

Syrian TV also reported that three people were killed and 20 wounded in what it called a suicide car-bombing in Daraa, near the Jordanian border. Opposition activist Aseel Abdallah, however, told Alhurra TV that he believed the government was behind the explosion:

Abdallah said that opposition activists in Daraa think the government was behind the bombing, because they noticed an unusual state of alert at military intelligence headquarters during the night, before the explosion, and that all was calm after the explosion, when one would have expected extra activity. Abdallah argued that the explosion coincided with a government media campaign to blame violence in the country on foreign terrorists and al-Qaida.

Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution says that he thinks the Syrian media is declaring victory, now that it has defied the outside world.

"This regime looked at the world, surveyed it and concluded that no cavalry was coming to the rescue of these embattled Syrians," said Ajami. "They want their population to understand that the world outside does not care. This is a very important message to them, to break the will of the population, that there is no cavalry coming to the rescue. And I think, by and large, the Syrian people now must have fully understood that message."

Ajami adds that the U.S. is preoccupied with presidential primaries and that U.S. officials are reluctant to get involved in Syria, absent public pressure to do so. He also notes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not evoke loathing like a typical Hollywood villain:

"I think you have to give credit where credit is due to the killer in Damascus. Unlike Gadhafi, who was insane, and who said things in a brazen way, the man in Damascus kills, but he also has a referendum, so he still is faking out the international community," Ajami noted. "He is less newsworthy, if you will, than Moammar Gadhafi. Moammar Gadhafi's insanity made him better copy. Moammar Gadhafi minced no words and said he was coming to kill the people in Benghazi, while Bashar says, as he kills them in Bab al Amr, he's offering a referendum."

Ajami argues that U.S. military strategists believe there are still some things the United States could do to help the Syrian people, short of a military intervention. "The choice isn't just 'boots on the ground' or 'head in the sand'," he says. "The regime in Syria could be broken without massive U.S. intervention." He insists that a Western victory in Syria would represent a "strategic defeat" for Iran, Hezbollah and Russia - something, he says, U.S. public should reflect on.

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