Sunday, May 20, 2018

Children among 74 dead in 2 days of Syrian turmoil

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Two days of bloody turmoil in Syria killed at least 74 people, including small children, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad shelled residential buildings and fired on crowds in an escalation of violence, activists said Friday.

Video posted online showed the bodies of five small children, five women and a man, all bloodied and piled on beds in what appeared to be an apartment after a building was hit in the city of Homs. A narrator said an entire family had been "slaughtered."

Much of the violence was focused in Homs, where heavy gunfire hammered the city Friday in a second day of chaos. A day earlier, the city saw a flare-up of sectarian kidnappings and killings between its Sunni and Alawite communities, and pro-regime forces blasted residential buildings with mortars and gunfire, according to activists.

At least 384 children have been killed, as of Jan. 7, in the crackdown on Syria's uprising since it began nearly 11 months ago, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said Friday. The count, based on reports from human rights groups, included children under age 18.

UNICEF said 380 children have been detained, including some under age 14. The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have died in the turmoil.

The U.N. Security Council met in a closed-door session Friday to discuss the crisis, which diplomats said was a step toward a possible U.N. resolution against the Damascus regime.

However, any resolution faces strong opposition from China and Russia, and both nations have veto power. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Friday that Moscow will oppose any resolution because it does not exclude the possibility of outside military interference.

The Syrian uprising, which began last March with mostly peaceful protests, has become increasingly violent in recent months as army defectors clash with government forces and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves. The violence has inflamed the sectarian divide in the country, where members of Assad's Alawite sect dominate the regime despite a Sunni Muslim majority.

Activists said at least 35 people were killed in Homs on Thursday and 39 more were killed across the country Friday.

Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said the spike in violence was linked to increasing pressure from the international community, the Arab League and the United Nations.

"The regime is trying to finish the matter through military means as soon as possible," and for that reason the level of violence increased, he said.

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