Syria appears to be losing control in north

Mark 13:8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.

Syrian security forces resumed their fierce shelling of opposition targets in Homs Thursday but appeared to be losing their tight grip in the northern region.

Government troops were stretched thin in their effort to control all fronts in the volatile country, while violence raged in the grass-roots anti-government uprising. The revolt has now entered its 12th month and the U.N. General Assembly prepared to take up a symbolic resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown.

Syrian forces shelled the flashpoint city of Homs for a 13th straight day Thursday, targeting the opposition stronghold neighborhoods of Baba Amr, Inshaat and Khalidiya, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group. Heavy sustained bombardment that commenced around 5 a.m., and dozens of injuries were reported.

In Idlib province in the northwest, people appear to be preparing for the possibility of a military offensive. Much of the region is in open revolt with villages and towns in the north out of government control for months.

At least 40 people died across several provinces Thursday, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, the opposition activist group. They include 21 in Idlib, 13 in Hama, two in Rif Damashq — the Damascus suburbs, two in Daraa, one in Deir Ezzor and one in Homs.

Col. Malek Al Kurdi, deputy head of the Free Syrian Army, reported shelling by government forces in Hama and Daraa province. He cited civilian and FSA casualties.

Among the dead are 10 military defectors in Hama, activists say.

In Idlib, the bodies of 19 people who tried to flee to Turkey were found. The LCC said they were arrested and executed by security forces.

The LCC also said security forces and pro-government militias attacked mourners at a funeral in Damascus.

In central Damascus, the regime’s security forces, backed by armed operatives, raided the office of activist and journalist Mazen Darwish, the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression, the LCC said. Darwish and 14 others at the office, including his wife, an activist and a blogger, were arrested.

CNN cannot independently confirm opposition and government reports of violence because the Syrian government has severely restricted the access of international journalists.

The uprising in Syria — influenced by the Arab Spring movement that forced regime change in Egypt and Tunisia — was sparked about a year ago in the southern city of Daraa with demonstrators angered by the arrests of young people who scrawled anti-government graffiti.

Their grievances and calls for reforms were met with a violent security crackdown, and the unrest there served to catalyze anti-government ferment across the nation.

Thousands have died in the crackdown — well over 5,000, according to the United Nations, but the LCC puts the toll at well over 7,000.

Syria’s actions have been strongly denounced around the world. But international powers have backed the Arab League’s efforts to deal with the uprising and some countries and groups, such as the Arab League, Turkey, the United States and the European Union, have initiated sanctions against al-Assad’s government.

But they have not been able to agree on strong action at the United Nations to rein in the government’s onslaught.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Thursday with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. Ban said the top priority was to stop the violence and establish humanitarian access. He said all relevant U.N. agencies were coordinating efforts to provide humanitarian help to the people of Syria.

This afternoon, the U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to consider a resolution after China and Russia blocked the Security Council from approving enforceable measures aimed at curbing the violence.

The anticipated vote follows news that al-Assad has moved up a vote on a constitutional referendum touted by his government as an important reform initiative, a move critics say is nothing more than window dressing. That vote is set for February 26.

While a resolution adopted by the 193-member nation General Assembly would not be binding, it would mark the strongest U.N. statement to date condemning al-Assad’s regime.

The draft resolution calls on Syria to end human rights violations and attacks against civilians immediately, and condemns violence by al-Assad’s forces and the opposition.

For nearly a year, al-Assad has denied reports that his forces are indiscriminately targeting civilians, saying they were fighting armed gangs and foreign fighters bent on destabilizing the government.

But the vast majority of accounts from within the country say that Syrian forces are slaughtering civilians as part of a crackdown on anti-government opposition calling for al-Assad’s ouster.

It is unclear what, if any, effect a resolution would have on what many world leaders see as a relentless campaign by al-Assad’s forces to stamp out opposition.

The General Assembly’s anticipated vote follows news that France is bringing another resolution before the U.N. Security Council.

“We are currently renegotiating a resolution at the U.N Security Council to see if we can persuade the Russians,” Juppe told radio station France Info Wednesday.

Russia is seen as the linchpin in winning passage of a resolution that could force change in Syria because it could open al-Assad’s regime up to U.N. sanctions as well as expose the president and his inner circle to possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the ICC’s authority. The Security Council is on the only world body that can refer crimes against humanity to the international court.

Russia, a Soviet-era ally with trade and arms ties to Syria, has been adamantly opposed to a resolution that calls for al-Assad to step down, saying it amounts to a mandate for regime change.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated Moscow may be open to supporting a Security Council resolution that stipulates — under certain conditions — that peacekeepers could be deployed to Syria.

“If the issue is about stopping gunfire, everything is possible,” Lavrov said at joint a news conference with his Dutch counterpart Uri Rosenthal, according to state-run RIA-Novosti news agency.

Russia has given mixed messages as to whether it would accept a U.N. arms embargo or economic sanctions, even though it has said it is concerned about the prospect of a Syrian civil war.

Meanwhile, China announced Thursday that it was sending an envoy to Syria in an attempt to help defuse the crisis, according to state-run China National Radio (CNR).

Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun is scheduled to travel to Syria beginning Friday for a two-day visit, CNR said. The report did not say who the minister would meet with, saying only “his detailed schedule is still in planning.”

Source: CNN – Syria appears to be losing control in north