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Outcry at Syria's sectarian slaughter of the innocents

EVEN by the numbing standards of Syria's uprising, the most brutal of the Arab Spring, the images are harrowing.

Their faces battered and bloodied, the four children are laid out on a bed. The camera hovers first over the body of a male toddler in a turquoise sleep suit and blue and pink socks. He is not yet of walking age.

A bib around his neck is splattered in blood and he is lying on the upstretched hand of his older sister, whose face is stained crimson. Beneath them on the sheet are the bodies of two more young children, a boy and a girl, both bearing horrific injuries.

The bloodshed does not stop there. On the floor to the left of the bed is a veiled woman, perhaps the children's mother. The camera pans further away to show the body of a male.

It is impossible to verify the exact circumstances in which 14 members of the Bahader family were killed in their house in Homs on Thursday, their plight captured by an amateur cameraman.

According to neighbours in the city's Karm al-Zaitoun district, they were murdered simply because they were Sunni Arabs, victims of militiamen from President Bashar al-Assad's Allawite Shia minority on a vengeance mission after some of their colleagues were killed by Sunni rebels at a checkpoint.

"It's racial cleansing," one resident of Karm al-Zaitoun was quoted as saying. "They are killing people because of their sect."

Syria's struggle to shake off its dictator, a man once regarded by the West as a representative of a new generation of enlightened Middle East leadership, has been more bloodsoaked than in any other state caught up in the Arab awakening.

In the past 10 months, more than 5,000 civilians have died. The United Nations, which calculated the figure, admitted that the death toll was rising so rapidly that it gave up trying to update the tally weeks ago.

But the ferocity with which the Bahader family was killed has given rise to fears that Syria is entering an even bloodier phase.

More than 100 people have been killed in countrywide violence over the past 48 hours, according to rights groups, with deaths being reported for the first time in the second city of Aleppo, the one part of Syria that has seen relatively little violence since the unrest began.

Mustafa al-Dabi, the Sudanese general heading the Arab League's controversial monitoring mission to Syria, conceded that things were getting worse, saying that unrest had risen "in a significant way" since Tuesday. The violence, he added, did not "help the atmosphere to get all sides to sit at the negotiating table".

With the situation rapidly deteriorating, the UN Security Council met in closed session last night to discuss a draft resolution from Western and Arab states with the intention of bringing the matter to a vote next week.

But Russia, which has remained steadfast in its loyalty to the Assad regime, again signalled its determination to veto the resolution, even though it makes no mention of sanctions.

The international community's perceived impotence in responding to the crisis in Syria has angered many of Mr Assad's opponents, who question why the West was willing to act to protect Libyans but not them.

Reflecting a growing sense that time might be running out, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, urged the Security Council to put aside its differences. "We have to seize this moment," he said. "We have to help these people. They have been oppressed for so long."

Mr Assad yesterday launched fresh offensives against Homs, the home city of the Bahader family, and Hama, two regions that have seen some of the worst bloodshed. Government forces were accused of shelling suburbs in both cities.

Many fear the violence will intensify and take on a more sectarian hue.

Sunnis and Allawites in Homs have already carried out hundreds of tit-for-tat kidnappings in scenes redolent of the Iraqi insurgency, and the deaths of the Bahader family can only serve to heighten the growing sectarian hatred at the epicentre of the uprising. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent