Syrian city 'under siege' by army

Activists in Homs say government tanks have been shelling the city, as Arab League monitors meet foreign minister.

    Residents in the Syrian city of Homs are calling for Western intervention, as activists say the area has come under renewed attack from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

    Residents told Al Jazeera on Saturday that army tanks were shelling the city. Activists in the Bab Amr district said they had been under seige for the last 48 hours.

    "There are heavy bombardments going on since early morning and there is non stop firing so far," a resident of Bab Amr said on Saturday.

    "We have counted so far 16 people have been killed and we've got so many injured, so many houses have been destroyed and we don't know what to do. Everywhere from every side we can see tanks very clearly and different types of heavy machine guns have been used since morning."

    Meanwhile, the bodies of four civilians who had been arrested were found on Saturday with signs of torture in the restive Homs province, activists said. They also said at least 28 people were killed across the country on Saturday.

    The reports came as Arab League monitors met Syria's foreign minister on Saturday, a day after suicide bombers killed 44 people in attacks Damascus said bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, but which the opposition said were the government's work.

    Thousands of people in the Syrian capital took part in funerals, and mourners carried coffins draped in Syrian flags into the eighth-century Omayyad mosque.

    The funerals turned into pro-government rallies, with Syrians chanting "Death to America" during the processions in Damascus, the Reuters news agency reported.

    The bombings, which hit two security buildings on Friday, were the first against the powerful security services in the heart of the capital since an uprising against Assad began in March.

    'Armed terrorists'

    An advance delegation of Arab League monitors on Saturday met Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, to discuss the arrival of a team to oversee a deal aimed at ending nine months of bloodshed.

    Muallem has said he expects the observers to vindicate his government's contention the unrest is the work of "armed terrorists", not overwhelmingly peaceful protesters as maintained by Western powers and human rights watchdogs.

    Asked by reporters to comment on suggestions the bombings had been engineered by the regime itself, Faisal Meqdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, replied: "Anyone who makes such allegations is a criminal."

    But the opposition Syrian National Council said in a statement: "The Syrian regime, alone, bears all the direct responsibility for the two terrorist explosions."

    It said the government was trying to create the impression "that it faces danger coming from abroad and not a popular revolution demanding freedom and dignity".

    The Muslim Brotherhood, an influential component of the SNC, issued its own statement, in which it also pointed the finger at the regime.

    "The regime gave a bloody welcome to the team of Arab observers, on the morning of Holy Friday, to cover up the weekly demonstrations across the Syrian map," it said.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera from Damascus on Saturday, Jihad al-Makdissi, spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, said: "What do you expect from the opposition actually? Of course they will use this to further their own political agenda. What I feel sorry for is that the opposition so far, regardless of who is behind it, has not condemned the violent attacks."

    Observer team

    In Cairo, the Arab League's Ahmed Ben Helli said the mission will head to Syria on Monday, grouping more than 50 experts in politics, human rights, military issues and crisis management, the official MENA news agency reported.

    The mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that also calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.

    But opposition leaders have charged that Syria's agreement to the mission after weeks of prevarication was a mere "ploy" to head off a threat by the Arab League to go to the UN Security Council over the nine-month crackdown.

    The Security Council condemned Friday's attacks but remained deadlocked on a full resolution on the crisis with the Russian and US ambassadors trading personal barbs.

    While not rejecting Syria's account of the events, France accused the regime of trying "to mask the reality of the repression, notably by transferring political prisoners to secret jails".

    Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN leader was "gravely concerned" about the escalation and urged the government to "fully and speedily" implement the Arab League plan.

    "[Ban] urges the need for a credible, inclusive and legitimate Syrian-led process of comprehensive political change that will address the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people," a statement by the secretary-general read.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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