67 killed in Homs, say Syrian activists

67 killed in Homs, say Syrian activists

Lead oppn to talks: Russia to anti-Assad countries

Syrian forces thrusting into the rebellious city of Homs on Wednesday killed at least 67 civilians, including three families slain in their homes by militiaman loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, activists said.

The onslaught on Homs, one of the bloodiest of the 11-month-old revolt against Assad, has not relented despite a promise to end the bloodshed that the Syrian leader gave to Russia, which saved Damascus from UN Security Council action on Sunday.

A Turkish newspaper close to the government said Turkey, which has taken a strong stand against former ally Assad, planned to organize a conference with Arab and Western governments in Istanbul. The conference would be part of a broader Turkish initiative that may be outlined on Wednesday.

In the latest assault on Homs, troops fired rockets and mortars while tanks entered the Inshaat neighbourhood and moved closer to Bab Amro, the district hardest hit by bombardments that have killed at least 150 people in the last two days, activists in the city and opposition sources said.

“Electricity returned briefly and we were able to contact various neighborhoods because activists there managed to recharge their phones. We counted 47 killed since midnight,” activist Mohammad Hassan said by satellite phone.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said countries with influence over the Syrian opposition should press them to enter a dialogue with Assad, comments that made clear Moscow had no immediate intention of abandoning its long-time ally.

Lavrov was speaking in Moscow a day after he met Assad in Damascus, where he said both nations wanted to revive an Arab League monitoring effort that was suspended due to violence.

Syrian opposition figures, who said Lavrov had brought no new initiative, spurn Assad’s promises of reform as meaningless while his troops are killing civilians and say he must go. Walid al-Bunni, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), dismissed Lavrov's dialogue proposal.

“The Arab initiative is clear. Assad must step down and Syrians will then be ready to sit together at a table with whoever succeeds him to discuss a democratic transition,” the head of the SNC’s foreign policy committee said.