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4 Feb, 2012 10:30

'Hundreds' killed in Syria as UNSC vote nears

Hundreds are reported dead after a major military offensive on the western Syrian city of Homs overnight. While the country’s opposition blames Bashar al-Assad for the assault, the regime claims the reports are provocations.

Reports say at least 200 perished in the attack on the Syrian city of Homs, which started late on Friday. Eyewitnesses say attackers used tanks, mortars and machine guns, Al Jazeera reports.  The opposition claims it was the Syrian regular army that caused the bloodbath.  Assad’s regime denies attacking Homs and maintains the reports are untrue and aimed at putting pressure on the UN Security Council, which is expected to vote on a resolution on Saturday. The regime accused TV stations broadcasting images of Homs and dead bodies of “inciting violence.”  "The civilians shown by satellite television stations are citizens who were kidnapped and killed by armed gunmen," state agency SANA said.Protesters stormed Syrian embassies in Cairo, Kuwait and London on Saturday, AFP reports. The opposition Syrian National Council called on the world community to take action, saying Assad’s regime had “committed one of the most horrific massacres since the beginning of the uprising in Syria.” The UN Security Council is expected to vote on the resolution on Syria on Saturday, AP quoted an unnamed diplomat in the Council as saying. The move to a vote follows a conversation between Hillary Clinton and the Russian Foreign Minister on Friday, the agency reports.However news of the vote, which emerged overnight, came as a surprise to Russia.Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia still has concerns about the draft resolution which need to be addressed. Any attempt by the US to push for the UNSC to vote today would be “just another scandal,” the Russian foreign minister said in an interview on Russia 1 TV channel.Later in the day Lavrov said Russia sees two major problems with the current draft resolution. First, there are too few demands being placed on the armed opposition movement in the country; and second, that the resolution might prejudge the outcome of political dialogue between the sides. Political journalist Pepe Escobar told RT of his suspicions about what some are calling the Syrian government forces' latest massacre, in Homs. As the incident seems to have been timed in concert with the UN meeting on a possible draft resolution, Escobar says, the document is sure be of “suspect” validity.“It’s an alliance between NATO basically led by Washington, London and Paris and the six Persian Gulf Monarchies of the Gulf Corporation Council. Their agenda from the beginning, for months now, is regime change no matter what.”He emphasized that the resolution was uninterested from the start in the Syrian peace process – and that “not only have developing countries pointed this out, apart from Russia and China, but Syrians themselves!”RT’s Sarah Firth, speaking about Russia’s reservations on the draft resolution, highlighted the stumbling block of language.“They don’t like this obscure language that leaves the door open for international intervention,” she explained.She went on to underline how difficult it is “to get an accurate gauge or accurate figures” on the violence wracking the country and the urgent need for a resolution.Russian’s top diplomat is due to meet with his American counterpart, Hillary Clinton, later on Saturday, on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.

Even from inside the country, it is extremely difficult to verify reports of events there.  RT’s Sara Firth, who has just returned from Syria, shares her first-hand experiences.  “Even when we were there in the country, it is extremely hard to really get to the bottom of what is happening – to get to the areas, to see it with your own two eyes, and to be able to verify the information,” she said. “I have been speaking to people again today who we are in contact with in some of these areas [near Homs] and, to be honest, most of the phones are out of reception at the moment. There are all sorts of reports of electricity being down in many of these areas,” Sarah added. “In the center of Damascus the people we were working with are saying at the moment they are waiting for information too. It is exceptionally hard to gauge exactly what is going on at the moment.”