May 19, 2013
Syria accused of violence rise after UN monitor halt
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army intensified shelling of Sunni Muslim districts in the northwest city of Homs today, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens hours after UN monitors suspended their work, opposition activists said.
The monitors' decision on Saturday was the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan had collapsed after repeated violations by Assad's forces and rebels backing a Sunni-led revolt across the country.
US President Barack Obama will hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Mexico on Monday but expectations are low that they will break a deadlock over Syria's conflict, which has sectarian dimensions.
Russia and China have shielded Assad from Western sponsored UN action beyond verbal condemnation of the violence - a stance that Assad's foes say gives him a free hand to pursue his crackdown against protesters.
"Around 85 percent of Homs is now under shelling or bombardment with mortar rounds and heavy machineguns," opposition campaigner Abu Imad told Reuters by phone from the hot spot of the 15-month revolt, about 140 km (80 miles) north of the Syrian capital Damascus.
"Dozens of wounded are without treatment because all the hospitals have fallen under the control of shabbiha (ghosts)," he said, referring to militiamen loyal to Assad.
"The dead are the lucky ones."
Another opposition activist, Mohammad al-Homsi, said: "Since the (UN) observers stopped working yesterday we have seen a clear escalation."
On Saturday, chief UN monitor General Robert Mood said increased violence had forced his observers to suspend operations to oversee Annan's widely ignored April 12 ceasefire. The Norwegian blamed both Assad's forces and rebels.
Homs, which had a population of one million when the revolt began, has been under constant army shelling since March when Assad's forces overran an opposition neighbourhood whose residents were among the first to take up arms.
Free Syrian Army rebels are holed up with civilians still in Homs after hundreds of thousands fled over the last year.
Opposition activists said there had also been an escalation in the army's use of heavy artillery in Sunni rural provinces at the forefront of the uprising against the 42-year rule of Assad and his late father, President Hafez al-Assad.
A rise in violence over the last month, including two massacres that cost the lives of 200 Sunni men, women and children in villages near Homs and another northwestern city Hama, has prompted greater international condemnation of Assad.