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11:23am UK, Friday February 10, 2012
Twin car bomb attacks have struck Syria’s second city of Aleppo, according to state TV, as up to 10,000 troops are reported to be massing on the outskirts of the besieged city of Homs.
The explosions, which reportedly killed 25 people and injured 175 others, were the first in Aleppo, the northern city which has been relatively quiet since the uprising against President Bashar al Assad’s regime erupted last March.
State TV blamed “armed terrorist gangs” for the attacks on security posts.
Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay said families in Homs have been making preparations to die ahead of an anticipated major offensive by government forces there and towards the Lebanese border.
There were reports that tanks had stormed a neighbourhood in the city.
Ramsay said people were saying goodbye to loved ones as villages were being abandoned.
He said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) believes there is going to be a sweep by the regime’s troops through the countryside to the border.
Ramsay, who has just left the country and is now in Lebanon, said the area was “quite a hotbed because the FSA and anti-government protesters can nip across the border fairly easily for safety”.
:: Below are developments in Syria from Sky’s Stuart Ramsay on Twitter.
He said: “The view is that the government is about to push through lots of towns and villages all the way to the border and sending with the troops the militia who will kill indiscriminately without any doubt.
“The feeling from most people is that it is not just about controlling Homs, it is about crushing this uprising in all the major cities where this is happening and that means killing everyone involved. It’s that bad.”
The remains of a car in Homs, where hundreds have lost their lives
He added that the FSA was trying to fight back across the region against the regime but described it as “like a hornet on an elephant”.
The FSA soldiers are understood to be running low on ammunition after six days of fighting which has left more than 400 dead.
Fresh bombardments are expected today after a 24-hour period that has seen more than 100 people killed in the city of Homs, according to activists.
At least 400 people are thought to have died there in the past week after Syria’s largest city became the focus of the 11-month uprising against President al Assad.
As fears of a full-blown humanitarian crisis take hold and the international community considers its next move, there are concerns the regime’s attention may be shifting to Idlib and now to Aleppo.
United Nations general secretary Ban Ki-Moon has condemned Mr Assad’s crackdown as “appalling brutality” and mooted the idea of a joint UN-Arab League monitoring mission.
Arab League foreign ministers are due to meet in Cairo, where the proposal – originally made by its chief Nabil Elaraby – is set to be discussed.
So far, diplomats and ministers including Foreign Secretary William Hague have criticised the Syrian government but have ruled out military intervention. Mr Hague said Britain has no plans to arm the rebels.
Russia has given the Assad regime its backing. Following a visit by its foreign minister on Tuesday, it has now said no one should interfere in the country’s affairs.
And deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov signalled that Moscow will again use its veto power at the UN to block any resolution aimed at ousting President al Assad from power.
Mr Ryabkov accused the West of being an “accomplice” to the violence in Syria and said the country’s opposition bore full responsibility for ending the violence.
But there is growing disquiet at the loss of life in Homs, where witnesses say makeshift hospitals are overflowing with the dead and wounded.
Medical supplies and food are also now running out.
A Syrian doctor, struggling to treat the wounded at a field clinic in a mosque, delivered an emotional plea on YouTube urging other countries to step in.
“We appeal to the international community to help us transport the wounded. We wait for them here to die in mosques. I appeal to the United Nations and to international humanitarian organisations to stop the rockets from being fired on us,” he said.
The US has said it is considering ways to provide food and medicine to residents but even such a move would raise serious questions about the extent of international involvement.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the bloodshed was regrettable but that the solution was a matter for Syria.
“There is an internal conflict, the word revolution is not being used – it is a not a revolutionary situation, believe me,” he said.
The Kremlin, for whom Syria is a buyer of arms and host to a Soviet-era naval base, wants to counter US influence and maintain its traditional role in the Middle East.
His comments came after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday: “Help them, advise them, limit, for instance, their ability to use weapons but not interfere under any circumstances.”
The Syrian Human Rights Organisation says the past week’s assault on Homs has seen at least 300 civilians killed and another 1,000 wounded – not counting Thursday’s victims.
International officials have estimated the overall death count in Syria since last March at more than 5,000.
We appeal to the international community to help us transport the wounded. We wait for them here to die in mosques. I appeal to the United Nations and to international humanitarian organisations to stop the rockets from being fired on us.
A Syrian doctor in Homs
Bombardments in Homs yesterday hit largely Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods. The main street in Baba Amro was strewn with rubble and bodies were pulled from the ruins.
Hussein Nader, an activist, said: “Whole houses have come down and we do not know how many more have been killed. They are not advancing and it seems that they are content by continuing to shell Baba Amro until every inhabitant is killed.”
The uprising against the Assad family’s 42-year dynastic rule has evolved from civilian demonstrations to armed insurgency in the past few months.
The regime insists it is fighting foreign-backed “armed terrorists”.