Bodies litter city of Homs as 60 die in a day of killing

A SURGE in violence in the Syrian powder-keg city of Homs has left up to 60 dead in the past 24 hours.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said bodies littered the streets, dumped after clashes on Monday night.

Homs-based activist Mohammed Saleh said there had been a spate of kidnappings and murders in the city throughout the day.

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The city has been the epicentre of an uprising against the rule of president Bashar al-Assad. Available reports offer only a partial explanation of who is behind the kidnappings and deaths,

The Observatory quoted one witness in Homs as saying on Monday he saw the bodies of 34 people “who were originally kidnapped earlier today by Shabiha from the neighbourhood uprising against the regime”.

Shabiha is a popular name for state-backed paramilitaries drawn from Assad’s minority Shia Alawite sect, who are outnumbered about eight to one by Syria’s Sunni Muslim people.

Since the early months of the uprising, Shabiha have been accused of abductions, assassinations and drive-by shootings in a number of Syria’s most divided cities and towns.

Another anti-government activist in Homs, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 32 more bodies collected in various locations and brought to the state hospital in the city on Monday included both opponents and supporters of Assad.

An activist known as Shadi said the explanation could lie in a cycle of spontaneous revenge killings, not necessarily by organised groups or by groups acting in complicity with the state but reflecting local traditions of blood feud, exacerbated by divisions of clan and religion.

“For example, the families in one neighbourhood get back the dead bodies of their loved ones,” Shadi said.

“Maybe most just stay home and mourn. But all it takes is for one person to go and say, ‘I want revenge’. So suddenly you get these cases where some people are taken are killed.”

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Meanwhile, the regime ramped up its rhetoric against neighbouring Turkey yesterday.

State news agency Sana said Syrian border guards had blocked an infiltration attempt from Turkey by about 35 “armed terrorists”.

Sana said some of those who came over the border were wounded and escaped back to Turkey where they received aid from the Turkish army. The wounded were transported in Turkish military vehicles.

Relations between Syria and Turkey have disintegrated since Mr Assad’s government began using force to suppress the revolt, which has been going on for nearly nine months.

The United States, meanwhile, said it was sending its ambassador Robert Ford back to Syria in part to serve as a witness to the violence there and to meet opposition figures. He had been withdrawn in October.

On Monday, Syria said it would agree to allow Arab League observers into the country as part of a plan to end the bloodshed, but placed a number of conditions, including the cancellation of deeply embarrassing economic sanctions by the 22-member organisation.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby rebuffed Damascus’ demands, and the Syrian opposition accused Mr Assad’s regime of wasting time and trying to trick Arab leaders into reversing punitive measures against Damascus.

“Any announcements made by the Syrian regime while the military crackdown continues has for us zero credibility,” said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, an opposition group.