Russia, China veto UN move as Obama calls Assad to quit
THE UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT
In this citizen journalism image provide by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and released on Wednesday, a Syrian rebel stands next to a destroyed government forces tank decorated with Syrian revolution flags in Homs, central Syria. Local Coordination Committees in Syria/APRussia and China vetoed on Saturday a Western-Arab U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
Obama says Assad should step down, civilians 'murdered'
President Barack Obama on Saturday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government of murdering civilians in an "unspeakable assault" in the city of Homs, and demanded that Assad step down, Agence France-Presse reported.
"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," Obama said in a statement.
The US president's blunt condemnation came amid reports that more than 200 civilians were killed by Syrian forces in a night of shelling of residential areas in the flashpoint city of Homs.
More than 200 people were killed in shelling by Syrian forces in the city of Homs, activists said on Saturday, as the U.N. Security Council prepared to vote on a draft resolution backing an Arab call for President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.
Death tolls cited by activists and opposition groups ranged from 217 to 260, making the Homs attack the deadliest so far in Assad's crackdown on protests which erupted 11 months ago, inspired by uprisings that overthrew three Arab leaders.
Residents said Syrian forces began shelling the Khalidiya neighbourhood at around 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday using artillery and mortars. They said at least 36 houses were completely destroyed with families inside, Reuters reported.
"We were sitting inside our house when we started hearing the shelling. We felt shells were falling on our heads," said Waleed, a resident of Khalidiya.
As news of the violence spread, a crowd of Syrians stormed the Syrian embassy in Cairo in protest, and rallies broke out outside Syrian missions in Britain, Germany and the United States.
It was not immediately clear what had prompted Syrian forces to launch such an intense bombardment, just as diplomats at the Security Council were discussing the draft resolution supporting the Arab League demand for Assad to step aside.
Defections possible cause of violence
Some activists said the violence was triggered by a wave of army defections in Homs, a stronghold of protests and armed insurgents who Assad has vowed to crush.
"The death toll is now at least 217 people killed in Homs, 138 of them killed in the Khalidiya district," Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters, citing witnesses.
"Syrian forces are shelling the district with mortars from several locations, some buildings are on fire. There are also buildings which got destroyed."
A Syrian activist said Assad forces bombarded Khalidiya, a key anti-Assad district, to scare other rebel neighbourhoods. "It does not seem that they get it. Even if they kill 10 million of us, the people will not stop until we topple him."
The opposition Syrian National Council said 260 civilians were killed, describing it as "one of the most horrific massacres since the beginning of the uprising in Syria".
It added that it believed Assad's forces were preparing for similar attacks around Damascus and in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour.
Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, gave a death toll of over 200. It is not possible to verify activist or state media reports as Syria restricts independent media access.
Video footage on the Internet showed at least eight bodies assembled in a room, one of them with the top half of its head blown off. A voice on the video said the bombardment was continuing as the footage was filmed.
One activist said residents were using primitive tools to rescue the people. They feared many were buried under rubble.
"We are not getting any help, there are no ambulances or anything. We are removing the people with our own hands," he said, adding there were only two field hospitals treating the wounded. Each one had a capacity to deal with 30 people, but he estimated the total number of wounded at 500.
"We have dug out at least 100 bodies so far, they are placed in the two mosques."
Syrians storm embassies after uprising's worst violence
CAIRO - Reuters
Syrian demonstrators ransacked their country's embassy in Cairo and broke into the missions in London and Kuwait on Saturday, among protests around the world against the worst bloodshed in a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
The Cairo crowd smashed furniture and equipment and set fire to parts of the embassy building overnight.
In London, about 150 protestors chanting "the embassy we want" tried to force their way into the Syrian compound as police in riot gear battled to hold them back.
They tore down the flag outside and hurled missiles, smashing windows of the building in an echo of a similar demonstration ovenight when five men were arrested after successfully breaking into the building while another was held for assaulting police.
British authorities condemned the protests and said police were reviewing security arrangements.
Syrian residents in Kuwait broke into the embassy there at dawn on Saturday, ripping down the flag and injuring several security guards, the state news agency KUNA reported.
Rallies also broke out outside Syrian embassies in Germany, the United States, Greece and Libya after human rights activists reported that more than 200 people were killed in a shelling of the city of Homs by government forces.
The gate of the embassy in central Cairo was broken and furniture and computers were smashed on the second floor of the building. Parts of the first floor were burned.
The scene was calm by early Saturday morning and Egyptian police were guarding the embassy. Embassy official Ammar Mohamed said he had been told by security officials about the overnight attack and arrived at the site to assess the damage.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at a police station a few streets away to demand the release of as many as 11 Syrians and an Egyptian who they said were detained during the protest at the mission.
"God you are so strong, help us secure victory over Bashar!" chanted protesters outside the Cairo police station where they said the detainees from the demonstration were taken.
In Berlin, some two dozen people rushed past a police barricade and broke into the Syrian embassy, smashing portraits of Assad and his father and hanging a flag of the Free Syrian Army from a window.
Minor scuffles broke out at the Russian embassy in the French capital on Saturday during a pro-Assad demonstration.
About 20 supporters of the Syrian president were confronted by about 50 people against the government, according to a Reuters witness. Nobody was injured, but the police stepped in to make some arrests. An anti-Assad demonstration was also due to take place later on Saturday in central Paris.
A live internet stream from the Washington rally showed dozens of people shouting "Syria soon will be free".
In Athens, 12 Syrians and one Iraqi were detained for throwing stones at a guard post outside the Syrian embassy, a Greek police official said. They were expected to be released later in the day.
In Tripoli, some 50 protesters, the majority of them Syrians, climbed over the walls of the Syrian embassy compound and opened its outer gate. A small group climbed on top of the building to pull down the Syrian national flag and replace it with that of the Syrian opposition.
There were no employees at the embassy on Saturday, where only consulate staff now worked, a security guard said. Libya's National Transitional Council said in October it officially recognised the Syrian opposition council as the legitimate authority in Syria after months of unrest against Assad.
Anis al-Khaled al-Asmar, a member of the Syrian opposition group based abroad, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said the demonstrators planned to take over the embassy.
Essam Suleiman, a Syrian from Damascus who has lived in Libya for 20 years, said: "The Libyan government said they recognise the Syrian opposition but the Syrian embassy is still flying the flag and they are still working inside the building."
Syrians have held regular protests outside the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League, which has suspended Syria's membership, imposed sanctions and sent Arab monitors to Syria to assess whether the government was heeding an Arab peace plan.
The League called on Assad to step aside and hand powers to a deputy to start a dialogue with the opposition. Arab officials travelled to New York to seek U.N. Security Council backing for the resolution.