Strike on Homs leaves 80 dead

US says it will consider other options if political solution fails

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces rained rockets and bombs down on opposition-held neighbourhoods of the city of Homs on Wednesday, reducing buildings to rubble and killing more than 80 people, including two Western journalists.

The barrages marked an intensification of a nearly three-week offensive to crush resistance in Homs, one of the focal points of a nationwide uprising against Assad’s 11-year rule and its ferocity has caused international outrage. More than 60 bodies, both rebel fighters and civilians, were recovered from one area of Homs’ Babo Amro neighbourhood after an afternoon bombardment, adding to 21 killed earlier in the day, activists. “Helicopters flew reconnaissance overhead then the bombardment started,” Homs activist Abu Abei said. Videos uploaded by opposition activists showed smashed buildings, deserted streets, and doctors treating wounded civilians in primitive conditions in Baba Amro district, the main target of Assad’s wrath.

“President Assad wants to finish the Homs situation by Sunday to prepare for the constitutional referendum. Then he will turn to Idlib,” a Lebanese official who is close to the Syrian government told said in Beirut.

The devastation has caused an outcry but Wednesday’s carnage only showed how helpless Western powers are in their efforts to stop the bloodshed. The United States, which so far has been against military intervention in Syria, hinted however that if a political solution to the crisis was impossible it might have to consider other options.
The worsening humanitarian situation in Homs and other embattled towns is bound to dominate “Friends of Syria” talks in Tunis on Friday involving the US, European and Arab countries, Syria’s neighbour Turkey and other nations clamouring for Assad to halt the bloodshed and relinquish power.

In an effort to bring relief to starving and bloodied civilians in Homs, the International Committee of the Red Cross was in talks with the Syrian government on Wednesday to arrange a pause in the fighting.

Russia, Assad’s main arms supplier and seen as retaining some leverage over him, said it was seeking safe passage of aid convoys to civilians trapped in the violence. France also appealed to Assad to halt the onslaught. Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Moscow has asked the UN secretary-general to send a representative to liaise with all sides for the safe transit of aid convoys.

Meanwhile, the US said it was still seeking a negotiated solution but also hinted it could reconsider its stance on not arming Syria’s opposition. “We don’t want to take actions that would further militarised Syria... But we don’t rule out additional measures,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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