Syria Troops Begin Homs Ground Attack, 13 Killed To Save Journalist Paul Conroy

02/29/2012 06:59 am ET | Updated Apr 30, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian regime showed a new determination Wednesday to crush its opponents, vowing to "cleanse" a rebel-held district in the besieged central city of Homs after nearly four weeks of shelling.

Government troops massed outside the embattled neighborhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists, who have been under heavy bombardment.

A Spanish journalist who had been stuck in the area escaped Wednesday to Lebanon, the second foreign reporter to do so since a government rocket attack last week killed two of his colleagues and wounded two others.

The fate of the foreign journalists has drawn attention to Homs, which has emerged as a key battleground between government forces and those seeking to end the regime of authoritarian President Bashar Assad.

The government's increasingly bloody attempts to put down the 11-month uprising have fueled mounting international criticism.

The Obama administration summoned Syria's senior envoy in the U.S., Zuheir Jabbour, over the Homs offensive.

The State Department's top diplomat for the Mideast, Jeffrey Feltman, expressed his "outrage over the monthlong campaign of brutality and indiscriminate shelling" in Homs, according to a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of Congress on Tuesday that Assad could be considered a war criminal.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Syria had not yet agreed to allow her to into the country. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called that refusal "shameful."

"Rather than meeting the needs of its people, the barbaric Syrian government is preparing its final assault on the city of Homs," Rice said in a statement. "Meanwhile, food shortages are reported to be so severe that people, especially children, will soon start dying of hunger."

The U.N. and the Arab League have appointed former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as their joint envoy to Syria, but Damascus says it needs more information on his mission's goals before it will let him in.

The U.N. estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011, when protesters inspired by successful Arab Spring uprisings against dictators in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in Syria. As Assad's forces used deadly force to stop the unrest, protests spread and some Syrians took up arms against the regime.

Activists put the total death toll at more than 8,000, most of them civilians.

China urged world powers to provide humanitarian assistance to Syria, as Beijing tries to bolster diplomacy while continuing to oppose any armed intervention in the conflict.

Heightening fears of greater carnage, a Syrian official said the government was planning a major offensive against the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr.

"Baba Amr will be under control complete control in the coming hours and we'll cleanse all the armed elements from the area," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity under government protocols.

Activists reported heavy shelling throughout Homs, raising concern that the government was preparing a ground invasion to take back the city.

Since the first week of February, government forces have showered parts of Homs with daily barrages of mortars, tank shells and rockets. The violence has caused many to flee the city of 1 million people, Syria's third-largest, while those who remain are trapped inside.

Hundreds have been killed in recent weeks, activists said, including residents who foraged for food outside their homes.

It was virtually impossible to reach anyone inside Baba Amr on Wednesday. Activists elsewhere in Homs said their colleagues based in the neighborhood had quit communicating with the outside because of fears the army would trace their satellite signals to target them.

"Today has been very scary," said activist Mulham al-Jundi, speaking from another part of Homs via Skype. "They are still killing in Baba Amr and the water and electricity have been cut to most of the city."

He and his colleague ran their computer off of a small generator to communicate with the outside, he said. Armed rebels from a loose-knit group called the Free Syrian Army had been fighting with pro-government troops on the outskirts of Homs to try to keep them from entering, but he said their inferior arms weren't much of a deterrent.

"The Free Army has been trying to defend the area with almost no ammunition for 15 days. What can a Kalashhikov do against a tank and a mortar? How can they resist?"

Many civilians had fled the city's rebel-held areas, he said, "but now those who are in are stuck. There's no way out."

Homs is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) northeast of the frontier with Lebanon, and cross-border smuggling has been key to the city's survival and to arming the rebels because of the links between Sunnis in northern Lebanon and the Sunni majority in Homs.

The city also has a minority population of Alawite Muslims, the sect to which Assad and most of his security forces belong.

The ordeal of the foreign journalists, who sneaked into Syria illegally to report on the uprising, has drawn attention to Homs' plight.

Spanish photographer Javier Espinosa crossed safely into Lebanon, according to his domestic partner, Monica Garcia Prieto. His employer, El Mundo, confirmed it.

Two French journalists, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, remain in Baba Amr, Prieto said.

Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy were wounded last week in a government rocket attack on a makeshift media center that killed American-born journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Conroy was smuggled into Lebanon on Tuesday after fleeing the neighborhood Sunday night.

The activist group Avaaz said Syrians it supported got both men out of Baba Amr and into Lebanon. It said Espinosa left the neighborhood with Conroy, but the group came under shelling and Espinosa stopped to tend to the wounded while Conroy went on. Espinosa later met another group of Syrians who took him to Lebanon, Avaaz said.

Thirteen Syrians were killed while aiding the escape, the group said.

The Local Coordination Committees, a human rights monitoring group, said Bouvier refused to leave Baba Amr without the Syrians who were wounded by shelling while attempting to help her escape, and she has called on the French ambassador for help. The French Foreign Ministry demanded that the Syrian regime observe a cease-fire so Bouvier and Daniels could be evacuated.

In Damascus, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the government wants to evacuate the journalists but is being prevented by gunmen.

Makdissi added, however, that by entering Syria illegally, the reporters had "raised skepticism about the nature of their mission and the reality of their work."

The Syrian government blames the uprising on Islamist extremists and armed thugs. It has barred most media from operating in the country.

The LCC and another monitoring group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported government shelling and arrest campaigns across the country Wednesday. The Observatory said at least 17 had been killed, while the LCC put the death toll at 23.

The LCC reported that the town of Sermin in the northwestern province of Idlib was subjected to shelling in recent days. An Associated Press team in the town saw cars run over by army tanks as well as damaged homes and shops.

Residents held a funeral Tuesday for a man they said was beheaded when troops stormed the town Sunday.

"They are killing people who have nothing to do with all this, who have nothing to do with the situation," said Sheik Moussa, a Sermin resident.

Syria's state-run news agency said three gunmen were killed and others were wounded as they tried to cross from Lebanon into Homs province. The agency said a Syrian soldier was wounded in the clash.

___

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this story.

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07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT

Car Bomb In Damascus

syria car bomb

Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)

07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT

Susan Rice Condemns Killings

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:

@ AmbassadorRice :

#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.

07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT

Russia Condemns Massacre

Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.

Read more on Reuters.com.

07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT

Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)

The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.

07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT

How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?

How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.

Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.

Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.

Read the full report here.

07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT

Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)

syria

This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)

syria

This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)

07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT

Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed

According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."

Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.

Read more on Reuters.com.

07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT

Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'

Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.

@ AlexanderPageSY :

Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria

07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT

Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200

@ Reuters :

UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS

07/12/2012 5:33 PM EDT

Reports Of New Massacre In Hama

@ Reuters :

At least 100 killed in Syrian village: opposition activists http://t.co/FG3fJwu8

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Video purports to show shelling in the city of Homs on Monday July 9, 2012. (Video could not independently be verified)

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An amateur video out of Syria obtained by Reuters purports to show shells hitting the city of Homs on Monday and and injured child being carried away in Aleppo. (Video could not independently be verified.)

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Opposition activists say dozens of people were killed on Saturday when an explosion hit a funeral procession in a suburb of Damascus. The Associated Press reports that activists blame government forces for the blast.

A video uploaded to YouTube ...Read More"},{"id":"809","created":"06/29/2012 12:05 PM EDT","title":"Helicopter Gunships Bomb Strategic Town","tweet_link":"809_helicopter-gunships-bomb-strategic-town","entry_text":"

Syrian helicopter gunships bombed a strategic town in Idlib province overnight, while tanks moved closer to the city of Aleppo, Reuters reports. Opposition activists said more than 170 tanks have assembled near the village of Musalmieh near Aleppo, 19 miles from the Turkish border. \"They're either preparing to move to the border to counter the Turkish deployment or attack the rebellious (Syrian) towns and villages in and around the border zone north of Aleppo,\" a defected officer told Reuters.

Read more on HuffPost World.

","short_text":"

Syrian helicopter gunships bombed a strategic town in Idlib province overnight, while tanks moved closer to the city of Aleppo, Reuters reports. Opposition activists said more than 170 tanks have assembled near the village of Musalmieh near Aleppo, 19 ...Read More"},{"id":"808","created":"06/29/2012 11:39 AM EDT","title":"Annan 'Optimistic' About Scheduled Talks","tweet_link":"808_annan-optimistic-about-scheduled-talks","entry_text":"

U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan told Reuters he is \"optimistic\" that scheduled talks on the crisis in Syria will produce results. World powers are meeting in Geneva on Saturday to discuss a new proposal by the envoy to end the deadlock in Damascus. Earlier this week, Annan floated the possibility of creating a national unity government in Syria.

Yet it remains unclear if the high-level meeting will yield results. According to Reuters, Russia proposed changes to Annan's plan on Thursday, but the United States, Britain, and France rejected the amendments. Syrian President Bashar Assad also has reiterated that his government dismisses any outside solution for the crisis.

Read more on Reuters.com.

","short_text":"

U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan told Reuters he is \"optimistic\" that scheduled talks on the crisis in Syria will produce results. World pow...Read More"},{"id":"807","created":"06/29/2012 11:17 AM EDT","title":"Syria's Ghost Towns","tweet_link":"807_syrias-ghost-towns","entry_text":"

An amateur video out of northern Syria purports to show a deserted town where buildings have been abandoned and stores have been closed. \"Life is almost nonexistent here,\" one resident says, according to a Reuters translation. \"There has been consistent shelling and mobilization of sharp shooters on rooftops,\" he adds. Watch the full report in the video below.

","short_text":"

An amateur video out of northern Syria purports to show a deserted town where buildings have been abandoned and stores have been closed. \"Life is almost nonexistent here,\" one resident says, according to a Reuters translation. \"There has been consiste...Read More"},{"id":"806","created":"06/29/2012 10:35 AM EDT","title":"Dozens Of Bodies Lined Up In Street","tweet_link":"806_dozens-of-bodies-lined-up-in-street","entry_text":"

Activists say more than 190 people were killed in Syria on Friday, making it one of the deadliest days in the country's uprising. Video posted to YouTube purports to show dozens of bodies wrapped in white burial shrouds lined up in a street of Douma.

Syrian forces intensified their assault on the Damascus suburb on Thursday, pounding the neighborhood with tank and artillery shells.

Read more on HuffPost World.

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Activists say more than 190 people were killed in Syria on Friday, making it one of the deadliest days in the country's uprisi...Read More"},{"id":"805","created":"06/28/2012 4:04 PM EDT","title":"Compelling Report Out Of Ariha","tweet_link":"805_compelling-report-out-of-ariha","entry_text":"

Tracey Shelton traveled to the town of Ariha in Syria's Idlib province for GlobalPost. Watch her compelling report in the video below.

","short_text":"

Tracey Shelton traveled to the town of Ariha in Syria's Idlib province for GlobalPost. Watch her compelling report in the video below.

Syria Bombing 2/26

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