Syrian regime renews attack on Homs with helicopters and tanks

At least 38 killed in rebel stronghold as opposition calls for defections from Assad’s regime

LAST UPDATED AT 15:45 ON Mon 11 Jun 2012

AT LEAST 38 people have been killed in a Syrian army bombardment over the last 24 hours in a renewed assault to regain control of the province of Homs, the epicentre of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, The Washington Post reports.

The bombardment targeted opposition strongholds in the city of Homs and the nearby towns of Haffa, Qusair, Talbiseh and Rastan, where Free Syrian Army rebels have been escalating attacks on army patrols, roadblocks and missile batteries, the Syrian Network for Human Rights and other opposition campaigners said.

Government helicopter gunships took on armed groups in the Haffa region, around the coastal city of Latakia. An opposition group said at least 58 soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in the operation there.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the heavy losses indicate the seriousness of the challenge in the mountainous area where "hundreds" of rebels are entrenched. His estimated death toll could not be independently verified.

Six children were among ten people killed by a shell that exploded in a house where they had taken cover during the fighting in the region on Saturday, the SOHR said.

As the fighting has intensified the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has called for Assad’s troops to defect and join a campaign of civil disobedience, The Daily Telegraph reports. Similar calls came from Abdel Basset Sayda, the new leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).

At his first news conference since taking the leadership, Sayda called on all members of the Damascus regime to defect, while reaching out to minority groups by promising them a full say in a future, democratic Syria.

"We are entering a sensitive phase," Sayda, who is seen as a moderate, said. "The regime is on its last legs. The multiplying massacres and shellings show that it is struggling.

"We would like to reassure all sects and groups, especially Alawites and Christians, that the future of Syria will be for all of us."

The United Nations says 9,862 civilians have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March last year, while Syrian activists put the toll at more than 13,000. · 

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