Amide deadlock over the Syrian crisis in the UN Security Council and mass demonrtrations in many Syrian towns to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the notorioius Hama Massacre, hundreds of people have been killed or injured, on Friday 02/03/2012, in a major army offensive in the central Syrian city of Homs, activists said. Local activists said on Saturday the army had used tanks, mortars and machine guns in the assault on the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood, which began on Friday night and continued overnight. According to some unconfirmed sources in Syria at least 416 civilians were killed by the Syrian forces across the country (see -SYRIAN 2011 UNREST).

Sources in Syria said bombardment of the area started after the opposition Free Syrian Army attacked Syrian army checkpoints and killed about 10 soldiers. Since then, it seems that Khaldiyeh has been under constant bombardment, reporters said.”

Activists said government forces were targeting the neighbourhoods of Bab Tadmour, Bab Dreib, and Karm el-Shami simultaneously, as the military campaign in Khaldiyeh intensified.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 soldiers were killed in clashes with opposition fighters and that five army defectors had lost their lives. The group cited witnesses saying 217 people had been killed in Homs, 138 of them in Khaldiyeh. Homs is one of the flashpoint cities in Syria’s uprising, and some areas, including Khaldiyeh, have become strongholds of the armed opposition.

The official Syrian SANA news agency blamed “armed terrorists” for the violence, and reported that media reports were “distortion [and] falsification”.

In a bid to halt the escalating violence, diplomats at the UN Security Council in New York have for days been debating a draft resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria. A vote on the latest draft was expected as the council was due to meet in New York on Saturday but the Homs violence is to reshuffle the cards.

On Friday, a senior US state department official said his country was “cautiously optimistic” that Syria’s ally, Russia, would support the resolution.

The latest draft does not explicitly call on Assad to step down or mention an arms embargo or sanctions, though it “fully supports” an Arab League plan to facilitate a democratic transition.

Speaking on conditions of anonymity, the official said: “From our perspective, this meets the objective of supporting the demands of the Syrian people and the Arab League… providing a peaceful Syrian-led political path forward.” But the recent violence shows Syria is confident of Russian and Chinese backing.
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