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Latest round of government attacks kills more than 100 in Syria

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch, Los Angeles Times –

BEIRUT — Diplomats on Thursday were seeking new approaches to remedy the worsening conflict in Syria as opposition activists reported that government shelling and attacks had killed more than 100 more people — most of them in the beleaguered city of Homs.

After almost a weeklong siege, residents of Homs’ Babr Amro neighborhood described scenes of blood-spattered field hospitals, bodies left unburied, terrified families huddled in residences to avoid gunfire and shortages of medicine food, water and electricity.

“We want to evacuate our wounded and we can’t,” said a Babr Amro resident reached by Skype, who said he was among 20 people hiding out in a single room. “If the shelling continues, there will be no house standing in Homs.”

Residents expressed fears of an impending ground assault by Syrian troops, who have been gathering on the outskirts of the neighborhood.

“The tanks are getting closer to Babr Amro,” said another resident, who, like others contacted, did not give his name for security reasons. “People had bread stored, but there is nothing left.”

The Local Coordinating Committees, an opposition coalition, estimated that Thursday’s death toll was at least 131, including 110 in Homs.

There was no way to confirm the reported casualty counts as media access to Syria is limited. The opposition has repeatedly called for some kind of international assistance.

World leaders seemed stymied in efforts to halt the bloodshed, which has played out graphically in amateur videos widely distributed on the Internet.

“It’s quite clear that this is a regime that is hell-bent on killing, murdering and maiming its own citizens,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron during an official visit to Stockholm, reported London’s Telegraph newspaper. “What we’re seeing on our television screens is completely unacceptable.”

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assailed the “appalling brutality” unfolding in Homs — “with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods” — and warned that the carnage was “a grim harbinger of worse to come.”

The U.N. and the Arab League were considering sending a joint observer mission to Syria, Ban said

Diplomats have been seeking alternatives since Russia and China on Saturday blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution that included a call for President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.

So far, Washington and other foreign capitals have ruled out armed intervention in Syria, though several U.S. lawmakers said this week that the Obama administration should consider arming Syria’s rebels.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has proposed the creation of a group of “friends” that would support Syrians seeking a democratic transition in the country, which has been ruled by the Assad family for more than 40 years.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu was in Washington for talks on Syria.

Turkey, a resurgent regional power that shares a more than 500-mile-long border with Syria, is likely to be a key player in any new international plan for Syria. Syria has joined Arab nations, the United States and many European countries in condemning the Syrian government.

It was unclear if Russia or Syria would agree to a U.N. observer component in Syria. The prospective deployment of U.N. observers in the country would likely up the diplomatic ante and raise new questions — such as how U.N. personnel would be protected amid the spiraling violence.

However, pressure is clearly mounting for some kind of international response. The failure of the U.N. to act “is disastrous for the people of Syria,” Ban said. “It has encouraged the Syrian government to step up its war on its own people.”

Syrian authorities deny targeting civilians and say their forces are battling foreign-backed “terrorists,” including Islamic extremists, in Homs and elsewhere, including the restive suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital, and conflict zones near the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders.

Another town reported under siege was Zabadani, near the Lebanese frontier, which had fallen under rebel control. Opposition activists reported hundreds of tanks surrounding the town and firing into it, as trapped residents sought cover.

Syrian authorities have been methodically seeking to recapture villages, towns, and neighborhoods captured by rebel groups. The Assad government appears to fear any “liberated” zones that could follow the path of Benghazi, the Libyan city that served as a capital for the insurgent force that ultimately toppled Moammar Gadahfi.

Late last month, the Arab League suspended its own observer mission in Syria, saying increasing violence had made it difficult for the team to do its work

The observers were given the task of determining whether Syria was complying with an Arab League peace plan from November that called on the Assad government to withdraw military forces from residential areas, release political prisoners and begin a dialogue with the opposition.

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