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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syrian Army Pounds Homs

VOA News March 24, 2012

Activists say Syrian forces resumed heavy shelling of the already battered city of Homs on Saturday, as international envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Russia to discuss efforts to mediate an end to the crisis in Syria.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least three people were killed in the Khaldiyeh district of Homs and nearby town of Qusair following shelling that began early Saturday. Homs has seen some of the heaviest fighting in Syria's year-long uprising.

Clashes were also reported in Idlib province bordering Turkey, where the rights group says at least one person was killed.

Saturday's violence comes as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Moscow in an effort to convince Russia to support international calls for a cease-fire and open political dialogue in Syria. Russia and China have repeatedly blocked Security Council action against Syria since the deadly crackdowns on protests erupted. However, the two nations did support a Security Council resolution in recent days endorsing Annan's six-point plan for peace.

Annan will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday, and will then travel to Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with Chinese officials for similar discussions.

On Friday, the European Union imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's British-born wife and several other members of his family and administration.

The sanctions on Mrs. Assad came after leaked emails showed she allegedly went on lavish shopping sprees while Syria descended into violence. British officials say the EU travel ban can not stop the Syrian first lady from traveling to Britain if she has retained her citizenship.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva sharply condemned Syria's "escalating violence", calling for an extension of a probe into the Syrian government's alleged abuses in the year of unrest. The 47-member body voted 41 to three in favor of an EU-sponsored resolution backed by the United States and Arab countries. China, Russia and Cuba voted against the measure.

In Washington, the Obama administration said it will allow Syrians in the country to remain, even after their visas have expired, and not deport those who are in the U.S. illegally.
Reported deaths in violence across Syria

The United Nations says at least 8,000 people have been killed in the Assad government's violent crackdown on the revolt, which began with peaceful protests and became increasingly militarized as army defectors attacked pro-Assad troops who assaulted civilians.

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



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