11 May 2011

Syrian city of Homs ‘shelled by army tanks’

A residential area of Homs in Syria has been shelled by army tanks, according to human rights campaigners. Hundreds of people have died in violent clashes during anti-government protests.

The violence in Syria shows no sign of abating. It is claimed around 500 people have been killed since the uprising against President al-Assad began in the middle of March.

Human rights campaigners say there has been more shelling by army tanks in Syria’s third largest city of Homs.

“Homs is shaking with the sound of explosions from tank shelling and heavy machineguns in the Bab Amro neighbourhood,” said Najati Tayara.

Tayara said a Syrian Christian was killed by sniper fire to his head in the nearby Inshaat district, adding that the authorities were trying to raise sectarian tensions to undermine pro-democracy demonstrations.

Syria: it is claimed army tanks have shelled the city of Homs (Reuters)

He said Maher Naqour was shot as he was standing in front of his house in an area where snipers had been deployed on rooftops as part of a military sweep.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities, which has banned most international media from Syria.

But there is little sign that al-Assad’s government is loosening its grip on power.

A cousin of the president said the Assad family was not going to capitulate. “We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end… They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone,” Rami Makhlouf told the New York Times.

The start of the Syrian violence

It all began when a group of school children got their hands on some spray cans and splashed anti-regime slogans on walls.

They were inspired by the "Arab Spring" as broadcast on pan-Arab news channels and the internet.

Read more: the world is watching as violence grips Deraa

Makhlouf, a tycoon in his early 40s who owns several monopolies, and his brother, a secret police chief, have been under specific US sanctions since 2007 for corruption.

Demonstrators have shouted the name of Makhlouf as a symbol of graft in a country that has been facing severe water shortages and unemployment ranging from government estimates of 10 per cent to independent estimates of 25 per cent.

Makhlouf maintains he is a businessman whose companies provide jobs for thousands of Syrians.

The EU has imposed sanctions on 13 Syrian official including Makhlouf.