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Syria: Army Determined to 'Cleanse' Besieged City

President Bashar Assad's troops gather outside the neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs, raising fears of pending ground invasion.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/1/2012, 5:43 AM

Aftermath of Syria shelling in Homs
Aftermath of Syria shelling in Homs
Reuters

The Syrian regime showed a new determination Wednesday to crush its opponents and vowed to “cleanse” a rebel-held district in the besieged central city of Homs.

According to a report in The Associated Press, President Bashar Assad’s troops massed outside the embattled neighborhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents.

A Syrian official was quoted by AP as having said the government was planning a major offensive against the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr.

“Baba Amr will be under control complete control in the coming hours and we'll cleanse all the armed elements from the area,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity under government protocols.

Activists reported heavy shelling throughout Homs, raising concern that the government was preparing a ground invasion to take back the city.

Since the first week of February, government forces have showered parts of Homs with daily barrages of mortars, tank shells and rockets. The violence has caused many to flee the city, while those who remain are trapped inside.

AP reported that the Obama administration summoned Syria's senior envoy in the U.S., Zuheir Jabbour, over the Homs offensive.

The State Department's top diplomat for the Mideast, Jeffrey Feltman, expressed his “outrage over the month-long campaign of brutality and indiscriminate shelling” in Homs, according to a statement quoted by the news agency.

Meanwhile, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, said Wednesday that Syria had not yet agreed to allow her to into the country. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called that refusal “shameful.”

“Rather than meeting the needs of its people, the barbaric Syrian government is preparing its final assault on the city of Homs,” Rice was quoted as having said in a statement. “Meanwhile, food shortages are reported to be so severe that people, especially children, will soon start dying of hunger.”

The same was true for former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been appointed the Arab League and the UN’s joint envoy to Syria. Damascus said it needs more information on his mission's goals before it will let him in.

The UN estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March of 2011. Activists have put the total death toll at more than 8,000, most of them civilians.

On Wednesday it was reported that the Pentagon has detailed plans for military action if President Barack Obama decides to intervene in a humanitarian move to stop Assad’s death machine.

While the United States so far has refused to provide arms for the Free Syrian Army, which is trying to defend itself against merciless shelling by Assad’s forces of anyone who speaks out against the regime, an official said the Pentagon is preparing for a possible scenario of American troops on Syrian soil.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned earlier this week against arming rebels in Syria, saying such a move could inadvertently lead to support for the Al Qaeda and Hamas terror groups.

Last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, urged international cooperation to help supply anti-Assad rebels with weapons and other aid.

"The United States doesn't have to directly ship weapons to the opposition, but there are a whole lot of things that can be done" through groups such as the Arab League, McCain told reporters.