BEIRUT, Lebanon — With the Syrian military’s wholesale assault on the central city of Homs over, antigovernment protests descended into skirmishing in several towns and cities across the country on Tuesday, while opponents and supporters of President Bashar al-Assad traded barbed remarks about ending the violence.
Mr. Assad’s government seemed determined to scrub as many signs of its monthlong assault as possible from Homs before showing it to the world. But reports of violent mopping-up operations continued to filter out from the city, especially widespread arrests and periodic executions, mostly of young men.
“The government has control over Homs again,” said a 50-year-old Homs resident who had managed to flee to safety in Beirut. “They are arresting many people.”
Empty buses were seen moving into neighborhoods, then leaving filled with young men and boys, she said. A grainy, shaky video of soldiers walloping young men as they pushed them onto what appeared to be a green military bus was shown on Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite channel, but it was not clear where or when the footage had been taken.
The mopping-up operations also seemed aimed at clearing up pockets of resistance; the Homs resident said helicopters had been seen flying low over the city, followed by explosions.
The government and the opposition accused each other over a massacre whose 18 victims were shown on Addounia, a Syrian satellite television station, with gruesome details of the fatal gunshot wounds. On the wall behind the men a message in pale script, purportedly signed by the Free Syrian Army, an anti-Assad resistance force, said that the deaths were the fate of all collaborators.
But the opposition said the victims, named in a press release from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, had been killed by the government and were all members of at least three families in the Sabuh clan.
A convoy bearing aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross was blocked from entering the embattled Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs for a fifth day, while Syrian state television boasted about the immense cleanup operation.
Bulldozers were shown pushing aside piles of rubble from heavily pockmarked buildings while residents were filmed sweeping the streets. “Thank God the Syrian Army came so we can return to our homes,” crowed one woman, while most of the interviews that were shown featured people making disparaging remarks about the “armed terrorist gangs” that they said held them hostage during the siege.
Residents who fled in recent days spoke of the smell of death and piles of garbage drifting like snowbanks, casting a pall over the city. “When we fled there were still dead bodies on the floor,” said a 62-year-old great-grandmother who fled Homs for Tripoli, Lebanon. “We had to leave them all,” she added. “It smelled of blood, destroyed houses and ruins. There were dead people under the ruins of buildings.”
Elsewhere in Syria, fatal clashes were reported in neighborhoods in the southern city of Dara’a, the font of the year-old Syrian uprising, where tanks and other heavy weaponry firing into a residential neighborhood had killed five members of one family and grievously wounded a sixth, opposition activists said.
They said that the Syrian Army had also shelled a 12-foot-wide concrete bridge over the Orontes River into Lebanon that had been used to ferry out the wounded, including foreign journalists, from the fighting around Homs. The shelling made the bridge impassable, the activists said.
In Washington, President Obama said at a televised news conference that “what is happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous.” He repeated previous statements that the question of Mr. Assad’s leaving was only a matter of time, but again dispelled the notion that there would be any quick military solution, calling Syria a “much more complicated situation” than Libya. There the West intervened militarily and contributed to the downfall of its autocratic ruler, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, last October.
“For us to take military action unilaterally or to think there is some simple solution, I think, is a mistake,” Mr. Obama said, noting that military intervention must both be effective and address problems that are essential for United States security. “This notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military — that has not been true in the past, and it won’t be true now.”
In Damascus, Mr. Assad told a visiting delegation from the Ukrainian Parliament that his government’s power stemmed from the support of the Syrian people, the official Syria Arab News Agency reported. As he has many times, Mr. Assad described fomenters of the uprising against him as foreign-backed terrorists.
In a further sign of Mr. Assad’s isolation, members of the European Union were weighing expelling all Syrian ambassadors from their capitals, news reports said.
At the United Nations, the five permanent members of the Security Council and its Arab member, Morocco, began consultations on a new resolution on Syria even as Valerie Amos, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, was scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Wednesday.
Russia and China, Mr. Assad’s most important foreign supporters, vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions, saying they were imbalanced in blaming only the government for the violence, and they were already rumbling in discontent about the new effort. The obstacle to getting a resolution passed is the difficulty in how it frames the violence leading to the humanitarian crisis, diplomats involved in the negotiations said.
China sent an envoy to Syria, while in Moscow the Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning that the end of the Russian election would not bring any change in the country’s support for Syria. “Russia’s position on a Syrian settlement was never subject to political considerations and is not formed under the influence of electoral cycles,” the ministry’s statement said.
“Our approaches to a resolution of internal conflicts are based on international law and the United Nations Charter,” it said. “We are talking primarily about strict adherence to the principle of inadmissibility of interference from outside.”
Source: New York Times