Three families murdered in Syrian militia assault
Three Syrian families were murdered in their homes by President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Homs yesterday as columns of tanks moved towards the embattled city.
Fires burned and smoke billowed over rooftops as heavy artillery pounded areas under the de facto control of rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), killing about 50 people.
The families were shot dead by members of a pro-regime militia which has been responsible for numerous atrocities since the conflict began 11 months ago.
The Ghantawi family, including a girl of 15 and two boys aged seven and five, lived near al-Firdaos square. The al-Tirkawi family, with seven members, and the al-Zamal family, with eight members, both lived in the al-Nazirheen area of Homs. All were murdered when militiamen raided their homes late on Tuesday or in the early hours of yesterday morning, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the group, said the murders of the families, which claimed a total of 20 lives, had been disclosed by trusted primary sources in Homs.
Another report, attributed to different sources, suggested that 18 babies died in a hospital in Homs after electricity for their incubators was cut off.
Neither report could be independently verified.
Al-Shabiha constitutes an irregular militia recruited largely from Mr Assad's minority Alawite sect, which accounts for 10pc of Syria's population.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was "appalled by the Syrian government's wilful assault on Homs", adding that Mr Assad's regime was guilty of "indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas".
Homs, a city of one million people divided between Alawites, Sunnis and Christians, has become an FSA stronghold and the epicentre of the recent fighting.
Yesterday's bombardment began at about 6am, said an opposition activist who gave his name as Mr Waleed, speaking on a satellite phone from outside Homs. "We can hear explosions everywhere," he said. "We have no idea about the number of victims, but I saw six dead bodies today and there are many injured."
He added that three or four shells had exploded nearby in the previous few minutes. "Everybody is expecting a big attack," said Mr Waleed. "They bomb first, then they send the troops."
Earlier, two men tried to take medical supplies to the district of Baba Amr. "We don't know if they got in or not," said Mr Waleed. "If you get in, you cannot get out."
The fighting was so intense, he added, that the wounded were unable to reach the city's hospitals. Many were being treated in makeshift facilities.
Throughout the country, a total of 62 people were killed yesterday, according to the Human Rights Observatory.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, defended his country's decision to oppose any outside intervention in the conflict or any calls for Mr Assad to step down.
"Of course we condemn violence from whichever side it comes, but we must not behave like a bull in a china shop. We need to allow people to decide their own fate independently," he said on Russian television. (© Daily Telegraph, London)