Syrian death toll rises as troops bombard restive areas
At least 126 people were killed across Syria on Thursday, opposition activists said, as government forces intensified their attacks on dissident areas despite sharp international condemnation and increased diplomatic isolation, DPA reported.
"Around 110 of the deaths occurred in the areas of Baba Amr and al- Khalidiyeh (in the central province of Homs). Some were killed in heavy shelling on Thursday. Others were recovered from under the rubble from yesterday's bombardment," Omar Homsi, an activist based in the area, told dpa by telephone.
"As night fell, the shelling eased off. But the sniper fire is targeting anything that moves, even cats," he added.
The onslaught targeted Homs, mainly its restive district of Baba Amr, said opposition activists.
Homsi said most of the bodies had been burned "beyond recognition."
He said government forces used rocket launchers and phosphoric bombs in their attack on Baba Amr and al- Khaidiyeh.
Most of the other casualties were reported in the outskirts or near the capital Damascus.
Speaking at a news conference in Stockholm, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "It really is appalling to see the destruction of Homs. It is quite clear that this is a regime that is hell bent on killing, murdering and maiming its own citizens."
In moves that increased Syria's diplomatic isolation, Germany expelled four Syrian diplomats, two days after the arrest of two men on suspicion of spying on exiled Syrian dissidents in Germany, while Libya asked its embassy staff in Damascus to leave the country.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin: "On Monday I ordered the Syrian ambassador summoned to the Foreign Ministry to be clearly told yet again that any action conducted by the Syrian state against Syrian dissidents in Germany will not be tolerated."
The move drew praise from the opposition Syrian National Council. Naji Tayyara, the head of its foreign affairs department, told dpa from Dubai: "We highly welcome this move, which will give our activists and opposition members a margin of protection."
"We call on all other countries to follow the example of the German government and monitor the movements of the Syrian diplomatic missions," he added.
Westerwelle also called on the United Nations to appoint a special envoy for the Syrian conflict.
Human Rights Watch, citing Syrian monitoring groups, said Thursday that since February 3, the attacks in Homs have killed more than 300 people.
"This brutal assault on residential neighbourhoods shows the Syrian authorities' contempt for the lives of their citizens in Homs," said Anna Neistat, the associate emergencies director at the New York-based group.
Arafat Jamal, the head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Amman, told dpa that the number of Syrians taking refuge in Jordan had risen sharply over the last three days due to escalating military operations against pro-democracy protesters.
He put the number of Syrian refugees who have so far registered at the UN agency at 3,500.
But the official stressed that the true figure could be higher, since many Syrians had refrained from reporting to the UNHCR office and their affairs were being handled by local charity organizations.