Gulf countries call for UN to prevent Homs massacre
A woman walks with two children, looks back at smoke billowing in Idlib province (AFP)
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Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting to prevent a massacre from taking place in the Syrian central city of Homs.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, have been battling rebels – most of whom are Sunni Muslims – for the past three days in Homs, which is a strategic center point as it is on the road linking Damascus to the coast.
“Considering the Syrian regime’s insistence on ethnic and sectarian cleansing, as recently happened near Homs, and its use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the continued siege of Homs is inhumane and threatens a massacre,” said a GCC statement.
“The GCC calls on the Security Council to convene on an urgent basis to lift the siege of the city of Homs,” added the statement by the GCC, which is made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The Gulf Arab states said they were particularly worried about the presence of Hezbollah on the side of President Assad – who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The GCC said it was concerned about Hezbollah fighting “under the banner” of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
On Sunday, GCC foreign ministers met with Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign representative, and urged European countries to arm the rebels immediately.
Third day into the assault
Assad forces were unable to make any new advances in Homs on Monday, said activists.
“The shelling of Homs rebel areas continues, and it is fierce,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “But the army has made no advances. They haven't been able to take any new areas back.”
Rahman, who is based in Britain, said that the Syrian army was shelling the Khaldiyeh and Old City districts, which the army has targeted for more than a year.
“Clashes raged on the edges of the districts. The army and [pro-regime militia] National Defense Force lost 32 men in two days,” Abdel Rahman said. “We can confirm now that Hezbollah is taking part in the fighting on the Khaldiyeh front, and that they are using the [majority Alawite neighborhood of] Zahraa as a rear base.”
Hezbollah supported Assad’s forces in a recent battle for the strategic town of Qusayr, which is near Homs.
However, the Lebanese government has adopted a ‘policy of dissociation’ when it comes to the Syrian conflict.
According to an activist on the ground, Assad’s troops are trying to storm Homs on four fronts.
“They have made no new advances at all... Still the shelling is continuous,” Homs city-based activist Yazan told AFP.
Asked about civilians in the city, Yazan said they “have been living in shelters for months” because of the shelling.
Homs has been dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” Its central location is an important supply route.
Meanwhile, the observatory reported that Assad forces continued their shelling of rebel areas in and surrounding the Syrian capital to secure Damascus.
Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp and Daraya in Damascus were both targeted on Monday.
More than 90,000 people – mostly civilians – have been killed since the uprising against Assad ignited in March 2011, according to the United Nations.