Syrian army pounds rebels; new move at UN

Attack on Homs continues, rebels smuggle injured journalist out of troubled town

Syrian forces shelled opposition strongholds, killing at least 25 people, on Tuesday and a wounded British photographer was smuggled out of Homs into neighbouring Lebanon.

France said the UN Security Council was starting work on a draft resolution on the violence in Syria and the need to gain humanitarian access to Homs and other embattled areas.

“We hope Russia and China will not oppose the resolution,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. “Given the emergency, it’s time that all the council members, without exception, put a stop to this barbarity.”

Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution a month ago that would have demanded an end to the bloodshed and backed an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Activists said Assad sent units of an elite armored division, which is led by his brother Maher, into Homs overnight. Tanks with the words “Fourth Division Monsters” painted on them moved close to the besieged Baba Amro district.

British photographer Paul Conroy, of London’s Sunday Times, was spirited safely out of Homs into Lebanon. “He is in good shape and in good spirits,” the newspaper said.

Conroy had been among several foreign journalists trapped in Baba Amro, where
Marie Colvin, a veteran war correspondent also with the Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a bombardment on February 22.

Some Syrian activists said Edith Bouvier, a freelance reporter working for French daily Le Figaro, who has a broken leg, had also escaped.

Valero, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said he could not confirm or deny the report. “We ask people to be extremely cautious with this kind of information,” he added.

An activist with the campaign group Avaaz, which said it had arranged Conroy’s escape, said Bouvier and two other Western journalists were believed to be still in Homs.

In Hama province, security forces bombarded the town of Helfaya, a centre of protests in the uprising against Assad.

Activists said the 20 deaths of Sunni Muslim villagers there were among at least 100 killed in the province in the last two weeks in revenge for rebel Free Syrian Army attacks on security forces commanded by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

Situation deteriorating

There needs to be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria, the UN human rights chief declared on Tuesday, saying the situation has deteriorated rapidly as the Assad regime steps up its onslaught against the opposition.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the world has to take action to prevent Syrian security forces from continuing their bombardments and other attacks against civilians, which she said had resulted in “countless atrocities.”

Speaking at an urgent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, Pillay urged Syria to end all fighting, allow international monitors to enter the country and give unhindered access for aid agencies.

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