SYRIA: Homs hit hard in hunt for defectors, activists say
The death toll in Syria reportedly rose to 23 people Thursday after government forces launched an artillery-backed offensive against neighborhoods in the central city of Homs. Citizens of Homs said the strikes were hardest in areas where soldiers had defected, deserting the army in protest of what activists, residents and defectors say is the daily killing of unarmed demonstrators against the regime.
In the video above, activists and residents are said to be surrounding an empty army personnel carrier, then a crowd of dazed-looking men in army uniforms in the Bab Sbaa neighborhood of Homs, crying « Protect them, Oh God. »
The residents greet the soldiers as the troops move among them, kissing them three times on their cheeks. One man approaches a soldier with a piece of fruit.
« Long live the army, long live our heroes, » they cry.
Homs has been a frequent scene of bloodshed during the six-month clampdown by Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the city has become a bastion of Sunni opposition to the Assad regime.
The strike reported on Wednesday appeared one of the most ferocious to date. The Syrian government, whose accounts of the crackdown almost always differ sharply from those of activists, said eight government soldiers and five « insurgents » were killed in Homs.
« Outside of our windows, it sounded like another world out there. Angry gunfire filled the air. In the early hours of the morning, our mobile phones, land lines, Internet and everything was disconnected. We looked outside and we were surrounded, » said Fidaa, a 27-year-old clerk.
Accoridng to the video above, trucks full of security-forces personnel are being moved into Homs on Wednesday to carry out what activists have reported is an « extermination » of all soldiers who had left the army.
According to residents, gunfire rained down on cars, buildings and stores in an attack on residential neighborhoods such as Bab Idreb and Bab Tadmur, only about 300 feet from one another.
Activists and defectors also accuse government forces of targeting hospitals, medical personnel and ambulances.
In the video above, an ambulance is riddled with bullet holes in Bab Idreb on Wednesday. According to the narrators, all those inside the ambulance were injured after they came under fire by security forces.
Roula Hajjar in Beirut