Syrian government forces have been attacking Homs with artillery in what some people say is the worst assault since the beginning of Syria’s nearly year-long uprising. On Saturday, before dawn, the bombardment re-doubled.
Homs, population approximately one million, is one of the main centres of resistance to President Bashar al-Assad. Opposition sources say hundreds of civilians have been killed in the crackdown. The city is around 160 kilometres north of the Syrian capital, Damascus. The army has had it surrounded for months. Free media are restricted. Information is hard to verify.
A video aired on pro-Assad television Ad Dounia may suggest that neutral civilians’ anger is aimed at rebel actions: “We are prisoners in our homes. We can’t go out,” said a woman resident of Homs.
“A sudden explosion made it feel like the whole building was falling down. Look at this evidence of the crime. Look how they are asking for freedom. All the glass shattered. It’s terrible for the children. How can this be happening? Is this shell going to bring us freedom? To hell with such freedom!”
The failure of the UN Security Council on Saturday to adopt a resolution paving the way for political progress in Syria was blocked by China and Russia. The resolution backed an Arab League call for Assad to transfer powers. While Beijing and Moscow defended their veto, Washington stressed that Western countries are not prepared to intervene in a military way.
In Damascus well-connected public figures are pushing for a transitional programme and an end to use of violent means. Mohamed Salman leads the Democratic National Initiative, formed at the end of last summer.
A former Information Minister, Salman questions whether the acceptance or refusal of a resolution would have any influence on the upheaval in Syria, in what he calls “the national crisis of the regime, a crisis of opposition factions, a crisis of people and of security in Syria.”
Assad is fighting on several fronts, highly varied in their nature, and it is far from clear how much those who might remove him will be interested in or able to develop secular liberalisation or a more democratic future.
Syrian General Mustafa Ahmed al-Sheikh, for instance, sheltered in powerful regional neighbour Turkey, has been named to head a so-called “Higher Revolutionary Council”, to replace the “Free Syrian Army”.
Confrontation among opposing camps in Syria is traditionally complicated and punishing. This is not expected to become simpler in the short term – or less bloody.