Syrian troops have shelled the central city of Homs for a 10th day, opposition activists say, amid suggestions by the UN’s human rights chief that the UN Security Council’s failure to pass a resolution condemning Syria has encouraged the government to intensify its attacks on civilians.
At least seven people were killed and more than 20 injured on Tuesday in the city’s Bab Amr neighbourhood, which endured relentless barrage of heavy machinegun fire, tank shells, mortars and rocket-propelled granades, according to the activists.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Homs, activist Hadi al-Abdallah said that the shelling, which started at 5:30am local time, was the heaviest in days.
“Bab Amr and adjacent Inshaat neighbourhoods are being shelled every 15 minutes,” he said.
“We do not know what to do with the injured. Since the assault started 10 days ago, there has been more than 1,000 people injured.”
Bab Amr is an opposition stronghold that government forces have been struggling to regain control of.
The relentless shelling and rocket fire have trapped people in their homes, making it difficult to transfer the injured to hospitals or makeshift clinics, he said.
“Everytime the international community issues a strong statement, the Syrian regime decides to take revenge on us. This is the trend we noticed,” Abdallah said.
Tanks of government troops are also stationed in Inshaat. Many residents displaced from the neighbourhood report that their homes have been looted and sometimes occupied by government forces.
Elsewhere in Syria, activists said on Tuesday that security forces stormed Taybeh in the southern province of Deraa after heavy shelling on the town.
A footballer for the under-23 Syrian football team explains his role in opposition protests
Amid the violence, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the General Assembly on Monday that President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on dissidents indicated crimes against humanity had taken place since March 2011 and were continuing.
She said the Security Council’s inability to pass a resolution on Syria has encouraged the government to step up its assault on the opposition and launch an “indiscriminate attack” on civilians in Homs.
Russia and China vetoed a second Security Council resolution on Syria on February 4, the same day the military assault on Homs began.
Pillay expressed serious concern that the deliberate stirring of sectarian tensions could plunge Syria into civil war and appealed for Assad’s government to be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“The risk of a humanitarian crisis in Syria is rising,” she said.
Pillay also said that “credible reports indicate that Syrian security forces killed well above 5,400 people last year, including civilians as well as military personnel who refused to shoot civilians”.
In his rejoinder, Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, said Pillay’s comments were unprincipled and insisted that Syria was coming under attack by terrorist organisations.
Addressing the General Assembly, Jaafari said: “After today how can we trust the High Commissioner for Human Rights on issues related to defending and promoting human rights?”
He called on “all those who host, support, fund, indeed arm terrorist groups to cease forthwith in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy”.
The Syrian government blames “armed terrorists” for the unrest in Syria that began after protests calling for freedom erupted across the country more than 11 months ago.
Iraq’s interior minister said on Saturday that “jihadists” were moving from his country to Syria, and arms were also being smuggled across the border to opponents of Assad’s government.
This claim was denied by Colonel Arif Nour al-Hammoud, deputy commander of the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army, in an interview to Al Jazeera. However, he sounded a warning about the consequences if the international community did not act at this stage.
“Al-Qaeda is not accepted by Syrian society and it will never live in Syria. According to our information, no al-Qaeda element is hidden in our territory. Because the Syrians hate al-Qaeda,” Hammoud said.
“We urge the international community to act as quickly as possible to solve the Syrian crisis so as not to have a future where these organisations will have a part.”
Arab League plan
The General Assembly is expected to consider a non-binding resolution similar to the Security Council resolution that Russia and China blocked, backing an Arab League plan that calls for Assad to hand power to his vice-president and allow the creation of a unity government to clear the way for elections.
The violence in the country has prompted the Arab League to ask the UN for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to Syria.
However, Russia, Assad’s close ally and main arms supplier, said on Monday it could not support a peacekeeping mission unless both sides stopped the violence first.
China backed what it termed the Arab League’s “mediation” but offered no clear sign of support for the call for a joint peacekeeping force.
“Relevant moves by the United Nations should be conducive towards lessening tension in Syria … rather than complicating things,” Liu Weimin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said.
France also expressed scepticism over any possible deployment of peacekeepers, with Alain Juppe, the foreign minister, saying: “We think that any external military intervention would only make the situation worse.”
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said any peacekeepers should come from non-Western nations.