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A UN vote condemning violence in Syria was vetoed, as activists said shelling killed more than 230 people in a “horrific massacre” in Homs.
Thirteen countries voted for the resolution condemning the Syrian government’s violence, proposed by European and Arab nations to give strong backing to the Arab League’s plan to end the crackdown. But Russia and China made a repeat of their rare double veto carried out on October 5.
The Syrian government denied involvement in the pre-dawn assault that sparked international condemnation, blaming groups trying to incite unrest ahead of the Security Council vote on the draft resolution.
US President Barack Obama denounced the “unspeakable assault” on Homs and demanded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “step aside.”
“Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately,” said Mr Obama.
France, a permanent member of the Security Council, condemned this “further step in savagery,” calling it a “crime against humanity.”
Britain’s foreign minister William Hague condemned what he termed the “chilling” violence in Homs.
As news of the Homs killing spread, protesters stormed Syrian embassies in Athens, Berlin, Cairo, Kuwait and London, as Tunisia announced it was expelling Syria’s ambassador and withdrawing its recognition of the Assad regime.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said “Assad forces randomly bombed residential areas in Homs, including Khalidiyeh and Qusur, which resulted in at least 260 civilians killed and hundreds of wounded.”
The “Assad regime committed one of the most horrific massacres since the beginning of the uprising in Syria” that has cost more than 6000 lives since it broke out in mid-March, it said.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said that at least 237 were killed, including 99 women and children, and several hundred others wounded.
Assad’s forces also “bombed” the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur near the Turkish border, and suburbs of Damascus, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television channels showed dozens of bodies and scenes of chaos, as Tweets claiming to be from residents said Homs was “bleeding” under the bombardment.
A medical student told Al-Jazeera the local hospital was struggling to cope.
“There is a lack of blood, a lack of oxygen… There is danger in the streets,” he said. “We are overwhelmed. We have opened the mosque next door” to the wounded.
AFP was not able to verify the authenticity of videos or of opposition and resident accounts because of restrictions on reporting in Syria.
The government denied its army had shelled the flashpoint city in central city and accused television stations of “inciting” violence, the official SANA news agency said.
“The civilians shown by satellite television stations are citizens who were kidnapped and killed by armed gunmen” it said, accusing rebel forces of “wanting to use that information to (pressure) the Security Council.”
Church bells rang out and Muslim prayers were recited in Homs mosques for those killed, activists said. Thousands took part in funeral processions across the city.
“Nearly 200 martyrs will be buried in Freedom Park,” activist Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution said in a telephone call from Khalidiyeh, the Homs district which bore the brunt of the bombing.
Elsewhere in Syria yesterday, the civilian death toll rose to 21, the Observatory said, including 12 people killed when security forces opened fired on a funeral procession in Daraya, outside Damascus, the Observatory’s Abdel Rahman said.
Russia has balked at any resolution that could be used to justify foreign military intervention, calling for Assad to quit or that would impose an arms embargo on Syria.
But Russia announced that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the head of Russia’s intelligence service would go to Damascus and press Assad for a political solution.
“The visit by minister Lavrov and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (Mikhail) Fradkov to Damascus confirms the firm intention of obtaining a political solution to the conflict,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter.