Syrian troops reportedly launch ground assault on Homs

Syrian troops backed by tanks launched a ground offensive on Wednesday to try to retake the opposition stronghold of Bab Amr in the central city of Homs, but reportedly were being held back by stiff resistance from rebels fighting with the Free Syrian Army, activists said.

An activist living on the outskirts of the Bab Amr neighborhood who identified himself as Abu Emad, said fierce clashes erupted Wednesday morning after the Syrian army sought to push its way into the area near a sports stadium.

The U.N. Human Rights Chief says Syrian forces are bombarding civilians and committing countless atrocities. A top U.N. official now says 7,500 people have been killed since the uprising there began.

He said the sound of the fighting could clearly be heard across the city, but with all communications to the neighborhood cut off, it was impossible to establish exactly what was happening there.

The human rights advocacy group Avaaz quoted a person in Homs as saying the army had entered one part of the Bab Amr neighborhood. Avaaz said it was still trying to verify reports that the Free Syrian Army was battling the troops’ advance.

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  • Xinhua News Agency

    BAGHDAD Feb. 28

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki said Tuesday that he backs the change and free elections in Syria as a necessary means for stability.
    “Iraq backs change in Syria,” a statement by Maliki’s office quoted him as saying during an interview with Saudi newspaper Aukadh.

    “Change is necessary and situations can’t be stable without change,” Maliki said in the interview, which is yet to be published by the newspaper.

    He said that Syrian “must receive enough freedoms and form a national unity government at the first stage.”

    “Free elections should be held under UN and Arab supervision, as well as electing a national council that will write a constitution,” Maliki added.

    Iraq refused to support punitive measures by the Arab League ( AL) against Syria. Iraqi officials said earlier that their government intended to keep trying for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis that may preserve the Syrian people’s aspirations for a democratic change away from external interference and sectarianism.

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the official channel of Iraqia on Friday that Syria will not be invited to the Arab summit to be held in Baghdad in late March, in accordance with a previous decision by the AL.

    “The decision not to invite Syria is not ours, it is the decision of the Arab League, and Iraq has to abide by its decision, ” Zebari said, adding that “Syrian opposition is not invited as well.”

    Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government has close ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

  • March 1 Jakarta Globe

    Syrian ground troops attacked a rebel-held district of Homs on Wednesday after shelling it for 26 straight days, as world pressure grew for humanitarian access to besieged protest cities.

    A security source told AFP in Damascus that Baba Amr “is under control,” after activists had earlier said troops of the elite Fourth Armoured Division had taken up positions around the holdout district of Syria’s third-largest city.

    “The army has started combing the area building by building and house by house. Now the troops are searching every basement and tunnel for arms and terrorists,” the security source said.

    “There remain only few pockets” of resistance.

    But a human rights watchdog and activists in the central city denied that troops had moved into Baba Amr, insisting that clashes were taking place only on its outskirts.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights insisted that rebel forces were “preventing an attempt to storm” Baba Amr.

    Homs-based activist Hadi Abdullah reported clashes and heavy shelling of Baba Amr but insisted that ground troops had not entered the neighbourhood.

    “Regime forces did not enter Baba Amr until this moment. They are surrounding the district, while clashes are concentrated in the neighbourhoods of Inshaat and Malaab,” he told AFP by telephone.

    Abdullah said activists were “evacuating families because shelling has been targeting places that were considered safe in the past.”

    The arrival of the Fourth Armoured Division, which is under the command of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher, was a likely prelude to a final assault, he added.

    Another Homs-based activist, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Atta al-Homsi, dismissed in a telephone call with AFP the claims of advances by regime forces into Baba Amr as mere “rumours aimed at spreading fear.”

    He insisted that the deserters would “defend to the last man.”

    Rebel commanders said access to Homs was now completely blocked after regular troops blew up an underground aqueduct that had been the last viable route for smuggling of desperately needed supplies.


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