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'Nightmare' in Homs as Syria death toll rises

July 19, 2011

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian policemen carry the coffins of police and army members who were believed killed in recent violence during their funeral procession outside of a hospital in the central city of Homs. -AP Photo

DAMASCUS: Activists on Tuesday accused Syrian forces of trying to sow sectarian strife in the flashpoint city of Homs where the death toll climbed to more than 40 in four days and a pro-government daily called for dialogue to end the “nightmare.”

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 13 civilians were shot dead by security forces on Monday and Tuesday in Homs, after a bloody weekend that saw 30 people killed in the central city.

“Thirteen civilians were killed yesterday and today in several parts of Homs when the army opened fire as it carried out an operation in the city” to quell dissent, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP in Nicosia.

“The Syrian authorities are carrying out military operations in Homs after having failed in their attempts to sow sectarian divisions in the city due to the foresight of the people of all faiths,” Abdel Rahman said.

He also accused the regime of previous attempts to enflame sectarian tensions in other parts of the country, including Latakia, Jableh and Banias.

“The authorities' plan failed (in Homs) just as it failed in Banias last April” when pro-regime militias opened fire on a mosque in the coastal city with the aim of inciting sectarian tensions, he said.

Regime-friendly daily Al-Watan led its Tuesday edition with the headline “Nightmare in Homs.””Since the outset, everybody has been guarding against a slide towards a sectarian war... which does not distinguish between Christians and Muslims,” the paper said.

“But disagreements can only be resolved through dialogue,” it added. Late on Monday, another activist had said that security forces swept into Homs and shot dead a civilian and wounded four others.

Several coaches packed with security force personnel entered the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood of Homs and afterwards gunfire was heard, said Abdel Karim Rihawi.

The wounded were taken to Al-Bir Hospital, said Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights.

“The shooting continued in more than one area of Homs. The atmosphere is tense. Security and pro-regime militias are invading the neighbourhood, shooting indiscriminately to terrorise people,” pro-democracy activists wrote Tuesday on their Facebook page “Syrian Revolution 2011,” a driving force behind protests.

A Homs resident, declining to be identified, said: “Pro-regime (forces) attacked areas where the opposition lives. They sacked and looted shops.”

Fierce fighting rocked Homs at the weekend, with activists reporting more than 30 people killed in clashes between Christians, Sunni Muslims and Alawites from President Bashar al-Assad's minority community.

Activists say the government's crackdown on pro-democracy and anti-regime protests has left more than 1,400 civilians dead. Thousands more have been jailed.

Meanwhile, some 300 people fleeing the unrest in Syria arrived in neighbouring Lebanon late on Monday as the Syrian army boosted its presence along the border area, a local Lebanese official said on Tuesday.