Since the fall of the Baba Amr district in Homs, the Syrian regime has laid siege to other rebel districts such as Khalidiyeh and Inshaat. Thousands of civilians have fled into Lebanon as the regime arrests anyone suspected of involvement in the revolution, and tales from fleeing civilians talk of the regime getting rid of any evidence of the slaughter. On Wednesday, a group of Syrian Red Crescent volunteers was finally able to enter Baba Amr and reported that it's completely deserted and devastated, though Syrian state TV would have you believe otherwise:
Shelling continues across Homs and this report by HumanRights.gov shows the positions of artillery used in the bombardment and areas that have been hit by the shells. Now that the majority of the FSA-controlled back street hospitals have been abandoned or destroyed, the wounded are transported to Homs military hospital. According to the staff at the hospital, that's pretty much the last place they want to go:
For all of last week we only got one despatch from the activists inside Homs. Here's their summary of the situation:
"The shelling against the city of Homs and its surrounding areas continues. In Qusayr, Assad forces, supported with armoured vehicles, invaded the farms areas and villages west of the Orontes River. Meanwhile, shelling continued of the city of Rastan, and Homs neighbourhoods of Jib al-Jandali and Bab Tadmur. The neighbourhoods of Khaldiyeh, Karm al-Zeitoun, Bayada and other areas in the city were also attacked with bombs and gunfire using heavy machine guns. Assad forces also invaded the neighbourhoods of Qusoor, Khuder and Karm al-Shami, where a number of young men were arrested. Additionally, group executions continue in Baba Amr and surrounding areas, from which we received reports today that nearly 40 young men were executed in the Jobar area."
Reports of torture and executions are now widespread as Assad moves more of his forces across the country. This week the regime moved significant amounts of tanks and armoured vehicles into the northern district of Idlib, an FSA stronghold and major supply route for the revolution. Clashes between the FSA and regime forces have thus intensified in the region, and videos have been leaked of captured FSA fighters being abused by Syrian army troops:
Since the outbreak of violence in Syria, the border with Turkey has been essential in keeping the revolution alive. Daily, weapons, medical supplies and FSA reinforcements are transported into Syria from Turkey, and the wounded and refugees flood in the other direction. This means that Idlib is now the number one target for the regime, and this week has been the most violent so far in the district, with tanks shelling the capital, Idlib and massacres taking place in the rural countryside.
Reports are coming in of the regime using its fleet of attack helicopters to attack villages in Homs, with one incident claiming the lives of 40 villagers. So far, though, the FSA have strongly resisted; this is the area where they are best equipped and have strong supply routes, this is not just one city like Homs, but a whole region in rebellion making even moving troops and tanks a difficult task:
Defections this week have not just included lower-ranked officers and their troops, but also generals and political figures. On Thursday, deputy oil minister Abdo Husameddine announced via YouTube that he was defecting to the rebels. So far he is the highest-ranking government official to defect, and has struck a major blow against the regime and its efforts to paint the rebellion as "gangs of terrorists". There were also reports stating that four senior generals from the Syrian army defected and have fled into Turkey, giving a boost to the FSA who, for all their courage, are in need of better organisation and planning.
To the north-west of Idlib is Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city. Before the uprising started it was seen as strongly pro-regime, but student demonstrations backing the revolution have been increasing in recent weeks forcing increased military presence and raids at the univeristy by feared, pro-Assad murder squad the shabiha.
In previous Syrian Slaughter Updates, we've mentioned the largely ignored economic crisis that has gripped Syria now that it's under intense sanctions. Extreme fuel shortages are now common and the rate of inflation is skyrocketing. Last year the Syrian Pound was was at $1 for 45 Syrian Pounds, now it's near 150 Syrian Pounds and salaries are going unpaid.
This crisis will not abate as long as the sanctions stick (in fact, it's more likely that they'll get worse), and even with Iran desperately funnelling money to the regime the rot is unlikely to stop. With the rate the armed resistance is going, it could be the economic crisis that brings down the regime first.
On Thursday William Hague, the UK's foreign secretary, announced that Britain was considering sending non-lethal aid to Syria, such as radio equipment and further medical supplies. Both are desperately needed by the rebels and radio equipment would help improve the communication between FSA fighting units (katibas).
In more moves by the international community to broker peace, Kofi Annan, joint UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, failed in his efforts to broker a ceasefire and bring both sides to the negotiating table. President Assad is reported to have said: "No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability." This looks to be the international community's last chance at brokering peace as Assad is still desperately spinning the "armed terrorist gangs" angle, which may inadvertently hasten the international community getting involved in a military sense. Do these guys look like armed terrorists to you?
In terms of news coverage, this has been a quiet week for the Syrian revolution and there are fears that, after the fall of Homs and the deaths of western journalists, the media may start to shy away from the conflict. If this scenario plays out it would certainly harm the revolution that has now seen the deaths of 7,000 civilians in the space of a year.
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Previously: Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Four