Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Syrian Government Blames Rebels For Homs Killings


Syrian rebels, government trade blame for Homs killings

By Rima Marrouch, Los Angeles Times
March 7, 2012
Reporting from Beirut

Syrian authorities and antigovernment activists accused each other Tuesday of reprisal killings in the central city of Homs, where government forces recently overran rebel-held areas and continue to deny access to outside humanitarian aid and human rights observers.

The Syrian army has said it is "cleansing" the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr of mines and booby traps left behind by "terrorists" when rebel fighters with the Free Syrian Army withdrew from the area last week.

But activists and human rights groups said government troops in Baba Amr were carrying out revenge killings, which they say claimed an entire family, among others.

The bodies of 18 Baba Amr residents, all members of the Sabouh family, ranging in age from 1 to 85, were found stabbed to death after security forces raided homes in the neighborhood, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The group posted video online of what it said were six other Sabouh family members who were found slain, execution-style, five days earlier.

A pro-regime TV station also aired graphic images of bodies in a living room, with what appeared to be a half-eaten lunch visible. The station said the victims had been killed by the Free Syrian Army, which, the station alleged, had accused the family of collaborating with government forces.

With no access to Baba Amr, neither side's version could be verified.

A statement — apparently from surviving members of the extended Sabouh family — was released by activists who had recently escaped from Homs. The statement said, in part, that the surviving Sabouhs hold President Bashar Assad's regime "fully accountable for this massacre in retaliation for the support we gave to the revolution. We are going to provide all the necessary documents to bring the regime to trial."

Across Syria, activists reported that 39 people were killed Tuesday, including 23 in Homs. Death tolls are impossible to verify because of journalists' limited access.

Rebels also reported that a bridge over the Orontes River used by Syrians trying to flee across the border to Lebanon was struck by shells from an armored vehicle. At least one man was wounded.

In the town of Herak in the southern province of Dara, homes were raided and buildings and mosques were shelled by heavy artillery, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said.

After one home was hit, five members of the Masri family and a guest ran into the street and were shot at by security forces, the rights group said. Four members of the family and the guest were killed, and the mother is in critical condition, it said.

Several cities and villages in Syria's northern province of Idlib were also under assault by the army, activists said. In Maarat Numan, one of the largest cities in the province, at least four people were killed and dozens injured in an ongoing bombardment, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition coalition.

The Syrian government blames "foreign-backed terrorists" for the unrest that is challenging Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades.

Marrouch is a special correspondent.

A Times staff writer contributed to this report.

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