A deserted street in Homs, Syria. Government forces "finished with… (AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Beirut — Emboldened by its takeover of a rebel-held neighborhood of Homs, the Syrian army shelled other parts of the city and nearby villages Sunday in an effort to regain control of the area, antigovernment activists said.
Shells rained down through the day on the villages of Rastan, Tall Kalakh and Qusair, to which Free Syrian Army rebels were said to have fled from the battered Baba Amr neighborhood. The western city of Homs has suffered the most concentrated fighting and the highest number of casualties since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began last March.
"They finished with Baba Amr, and now they have turned their attention to [another Homs neighborhood] Khaldiyeh and the surrounding villages," said an officer with the rebel forces in Tall Kalakh. "They want to finish all of the Free Syrian Army, from Homs to its entirety. They will destroy the whole village just so they can get inside."
Antigovernment activists put the day's death toll at more than 50 nationwide, with most of those killed in Homs and in Hama province, where 13 factory workers were reported slain in a rural village when security forces fired on the minibus taking them to work.
In Homs, the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition network, reported that six activists were executed in a field in Baba Amr, in what is being described as reprisal killings.
Nidal, an activist in central Homs reached by Skype, said that residents in some neighborhoods were preparing for an onslaught and that people elsewhere in the city were getting ready to help out their fellow residents.
"We went to donate blood and we are storing medical supplies because we think they will be next," he said.
Grisly videos from Rastan, which has become home to many soldiers who have defected, showed dead and injured victims of apparent mortar attacks and rifle fire, several of them young children. An activist in Rastan, Abu Marwan, said four children and two women were killed and about 50 people were injured.
As elsewhere in the region, the rebel officer said Tall Kalakh had no flour or bread and no electricity. Residents fear the water might be poisoned by the government, so they have resorted to drinking melted snow, he said.
Although the village has a heavy presence of rebel fighters, their light weapons cannot reach the government forces, which he said is shooting from a distance of about two miles.
"We can barely see them through the binoculars," the officer said.
Nidal reported that the fallen Baba Amr neighborhood was being ransacked by soldiers.
"I have relatives in neighboring Inshaat who told me that cars with furniture, washing machines, TVs are leaving Baba Amr," he said. "Today is the first day when land lines are working.... I managed to contact several families in Baba Amr and they are hiding. We are hearing about cases of rape in neighborhoods the army enters but nothing confirmed."
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross was blocked for a third day from entering Baba Amr as the Syrian government continued to cite security concerns, including mines and booby-trapped buildings.
"We continue to negotiate with the authorities," said Saleh Dabbakeh, the Damascus-based spokesman for the Red Cross. "We have the green light to go in and hopefully we will get in tomorrow."
The Red Cross distributed humanitarian aid in the village of Abel, less than two miles from Homs, to those who had fled their city and to residents who had been helping them.
"Everybody needs assistance now," he said. "There seems to be a lot of people who have actually left Baba Amr and went there."
Marrouch is a special correspondent.