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In Syria, dozens reported killed in latest violence

Arab League officials, meanwhile, are preparing to seek U.N. condemnation of the regime of President Bashar Assad, who has rejected calls for him to step down.

January 26, 2012|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad crowd Sabe Bahrat Square in Damascus, Syria.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad crowd Sabe Bahrat Square in… (Youssef Badawai / European…)

Reporting from Beirut — Dozens of people were reported killed Thursday as violence raged across Syria, and Arab League officials who are calling on President Bashar Assad to relinquish power prepared to take their case to the United Nations.

Both sides gave conflicting accounts of the latest spasm of bloodshed since large-scale protests against Assad's rule broke out 10 months ago, pushing the nation toward civil war.

Pro-Assad demonstrators gathered in Damascus and other cities, the state-owned Syrian Arab News Agency said, even as antigovernment protests and attacks on security forces continued.

Heavy fighting was reported in several Damascus suburbs, but an opposition group reported that the highest death toll was in the troubled western cities of Homs and Hama, where 54 were killed by government security forces, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist coalition that seeks Assad's ouster. Nationwide, the coalition said, security forces had killed 65 people.

Activists reported that Homs, which has seen the heaviest fighting during the uprising, was again facing a full-fledged government offensive with armored vehicles. Government officials have acknowledged that much of the rebellious city has slipped from their control.

An activist reached in Homs, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said the latest violence was part of an ongoing government offensive against the Karam Zeitoun area and other neighborhoods. He said at least 30 people were killed there Thursday and six houses destroyed. Checkpoints encircle the besieged neighborhoods, he said.

"Whoever leaves home is targeted," said the activist, who added that families have been unable to bury their dead because of the violence.

The government reported that three security officers, including an army colonel, were killed by "terrorist" groups in Homs. Gunmen wielding rocket-propelled grenades in Homs killed four civilians, including two women, and injured 20 others, the state-run news agency reported. Terrorists also rained mortar shells on a Homs neighborhood housing Palestinian refugees and kidnapped a teacher, the news agency said.

Elsewhere, the news agency said, gunmen assassinated an industrialist in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city. The government said raids in the suburbs of Damascus had yielded weapons, explosives and materiel including "Israeli-made bombs," automatic weapons and night-vision equipment.

The government said 21 soldiers, security personnel and civilians killed by "armed terrorist groups" were buried Thursday.

The regime lays blame for the violence on terrorists, including Islamic militants, armed and supported by other nations. Opposition groups say the government's brutal crackdown on peaceful protests has led to an armed rebellion by Syrians seeking justice and freedom from Assad's police state.

The differing accounts of the casualties Thursday could not be independently verified.

The latest violence comes a day after a Christian priest and a Red Crescent official were killed in separate incidents. Each side blamed the other for the deaths.

A reduced corps of Arab League monitors has resumed its work, seeking to determine whether Damascus is taking steps to end the violence. Absent were 55 Persian Gulf monitors who left Syria after six gulf nations, led by Saudi Arabia, questioned Assad's commitment to peace. The Syrian government says the league is involved in a "conspiracy" to topple Assad.

Arab League officials, meanwhile, were preparing to head to New York in a bid to persuade the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad's regime. The league has called on Assad to relinquish power, but the Syrian government has rejected the proposal.

The Arab League is said to be working with Western nations, including the United States, on a draft resolution denouncing the Syrian government. But Russia, a Security Council member with veto power, has voiced opposition to any U.N. sanctions or military action against its ally Syria.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Special correspondent Rima Marrouch in Beirut contributed to this report.

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