Syria defies UN to renew assault on rebels
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, disregarding UN condemnation of their violent suppression of a nationwide revolt, renewed a bombardment of the opposition stronghold of Homs and attacks on rebels in Deraa yesterday.
Demonstrations against Mr Assad were reported by activists in several cities across Syria, including the capital Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, after Friday prayers despite the threat of violence from security forces.
China's vice foreign minister, Zhai Jun, arrived in Damascus yesterday in a show of support for Mr Assad after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution telling the increasingly isolated president to halt the crackdown and surrender power.
China, along with Russia, had voted against the motion and says Syria must be allowed to resolve its problems without being dictated terms.
Mr Zhai said before leaving for Damascus: "China does not approve of the use of force to interfere in Syria or the forceful pushing of a so-called regime change."
China's embassy in Damascus said Mr Zhai would meet his Syrian counterpart last night, hold talks with Mr Assad today and meet opposition figures in Damascus. It was not known if he had any particular message for Mr Assad.
Even as Mr Zhai landed in Damascus, government forces pummelled opposition-held areas of Homs, now under fire for two weeks.
An intense bombardment hit the mainly Sunni Muslim area of Baba Amro after troops, backed by armour, advanced from neighbouring Inshaat, opposition activists there said.
In Idlib, capital of the rugged northwestern province, two residents said tanks ringed the city at dawn.
In Deraa, a city on the Jordanian border where the revolt erupted nearly a year ago, explosions and machinegun fire echoed through districts under attack by troops, residents said.
The military has also opened a new offensive in Hama, a city with a bloody history of resistance to Mr Assad's late father.
On Wednesday, Mr Assad announced a referendum on a draft constitution on February 26 followed by a multi-party parliamentary election, a move swiftly dismissed by the opposition and the West.
But Mr Assad told a visiting Mauritanian official yesterday that political reforms "have to march parallel with returning security and stability and protecting citizens", state media said.