Syria faces outrage; 'smell of death' in Homs
Beirut, March 6, 2012
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad faced growing Western anger on Tuesday for preventing aid from entering a devastated district of Homs and over accusations of human rights abuses, including pictures said to show torture victims at a hospital in the city.
Dozens of men, women and children returned on foot to Baba Amr, passing bullet-pocked and damaged buildings, days after rebel fighters pulled out after a sustained and heavy military assault. The Red Cross was awaiting approval to distribute aid to the devastated district which endured a month of siege.
Residents who fled the district spoke of bodies decomposing under rubble, sewage mixing with litter in the streets, and a campaign of arrests and executions.
"The smell of death was everywhere. We could smell the bodies buried under the rubble all the time," said Ahmad, who escaped to Lebanon. "We saw so much death that at the end the sight of a dismembered body ... stopped moving us."
Despite their chorus of outrage as Homs residents gave more detailed accounts of the siege of Baba Amr, Western leaders have ruled out a Libya-style military intervention in Syria, fearing it could trigger wider conflict in the Middle East.
Calls for action to protect civilians have grown louder as the Alawite-led security apparatus cracked down on protests and an uprising that has its roots in the majority Sunni community and which has raised the prospect of civil war in Syria.
US Senator John McCain, an early advocate of the Nato no-fly zone in Libya which helped to topple Muammar Gaddafi, said the US should lead an international effort to protect Syrian population centres through air strikes on Assad forces.
"The ultimate goal of air strikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organise and plan their political and military activities against Assad," said McCain, an influential Republican and former presidential candidate.
In Homs, activists said security forces were carrying out raids in a district next to Baba Amr on Tuesday, and reported gunfire and explosions in another area.
In Herak, in Deraa province where the revolt erupted nearly a year ago, residents said armoured vehicles and tanks had massed on the western fringe of the city and in parts of the centre. There were raids reported in the city of Deir al-Zor.
A Chinese diplomat arrives in Damascus later on Tuesday to meet Syria's foreign minister and to outline Beijing's plan for halting the violence, while UN envoys Kofi Annan and Valerie Amos are expected in the Syrian capital this week.
The United Nations says more than 7,500 civilians have died in Syria's crackdown on protests against Assad's government, which portrays the nearly year-long uprising as a campaign by foreign-backed Islamist insurgents. - Reuters