Syrian Activists Fear All-Out Assault on Homs
Activists fear an all-out assault Monday on Homs, with Syria's embattled regime building up troops around the flashpoint city and activating a security alert in Damascus after surprise protests.
The reported buildup comes as the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, warned any intervention in Syria would be "very difficult" and that it was "premature" to arm the unrest-swept country's opposition movement.
Activists and Syrian state media reported that at least 14 people were killed on Sunday, adding to the more than 6,000 people who have died in the Syrian government's 11-month crackdown on dissent.
"Infantry troops arrived yesterday (Sunday) in Homs," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Agence France Presse on the phone Monday.
A Homs-based activist voiced fears of an imminent attack on Baba Amr, the main rebel stronghold in the central city, speaking of "unprecedented military reinforcements coming from Damascus."
"News has been leaked to us from army officers about a bloody attack that will burn everything in Baba Amr," Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution said on Sunday.
"We were expecting the attack two nights ago, but it could have been just delayed because of the snowstorm," he said.
Abdullah said regime forces pounded the defiant city for the 15th straight day on Sunday, with Baba Amr being shelled at the rate of four to five rockets a minute.
The Homs districts Bab Sbaa, Bab Dreib and al-Safsafa were being targeted with sporadic shelling.
Abdel Rahman was cautious about the timing of the expected attack.
"We do not know when the attack might happen," he said.
Meanwhile, regime forces remain on alert in Damascus after two days of large and unexpected protests, and after a call for a "day of defiance" was observed in restive neighborhoods, according to activists.
"Following the surprising demonstrations (on Friday and Saturday), the regime is reconsidering its security measures," in the capital, said Abdel Rahman.
Activists reported Sunday a security clampdown on the tense neighborhood of Mazzeh, thwarting plans to stage large protests in the area, scene Saturday of a funeral that became a huge anti-regime rally.
The funerals were for four people, including two teenagers, killed on Friday when security forces fired on protesters in Mazzeh, which houses many government offices and embassies.
One mourner was shot dead during Saturday's funerals, and his family was forced by police to bury him early on Sunday morning, in an apparent attempt to abort attempts to turn his funeral into a protest, activists reported.
Mohammed Shami, a spokesman for activists in Damascus province, said on Sunday most shops were shut in Mazzeh as well as in the Barzeh, Qaboon, Kfar Sousa and Jubar districts.
Student demonstrations had been expected in Mazzeh but security forces were stationed around schools, he said.
But student protests erupted after school in other areas of Damascus, including the districts of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Midan, Jubar and Barzeh, according to Shami.
In central Damascus shops opened as usual, witnesses said, while state television showed live interviews from Mazzeh with people who claimed life was normal there.
Demonstrations took place in several towns elsewhere, including Herak in Daraa, Tayyana in Deir al-Zour, and the city of Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib, and northeastern Qamishli, according to the Local Coordination Committees, which organise protests on the ground.