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Syrian Crackdown Intensifies

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The Syrian government has taken its attempts to quash the opposition to a new level and is “now using its last card… the genocide card,” said activist Karam Abu Rabea. The government has enforced a siege on the city of Homs which has been under attack with constant shelling in what has been described as its fiercest attack in the 11-month uprising. Syrian army tanks have encircled opposition controlled suburbs and have started to target the life line of these areas. They have targeted bakeries, hospitals and mosques ensuring that residents don’t have access to food and healthcare. Internet and phone lines have been cut off on Monday.

This attack came after Russia and China vetoed a resolution brought to the UN Security Council demanding that the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, steps down and hand power to his deputy as part of an Arab plan for a peaceful solution. Russia expressed concerns that it would pave the way for military intervention. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is currently in Syria holding talks with the president about the escalating violence. Present Assad has said he was “completely committed to ending the violence regardless of where it may come from” while his forces continued their assault on Homs. Lavrov said Assad was ready to hold a referendum on a new constitution and start dialogue with the opposition.

The US has dismissed the call for a referendum saying that this is the same promise Assad has made before. Russias veto prompted global condemnation followed by a diplomatic exodus with the US closing down its Syrian embassy, Britain recalling its ambassador, France and Italy withdrawing their ambassadors and six Arab nations (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) withdrawing their envoys and expelling the Syrian ambassadors from their countries.

British diplomats said William Hague, foreign secretary, was planning to speak to Lavrov to hear a full account of the meeting with Assad. He also plans to talk to Qatar’s prime minister and the Arab League’s chief hawk on Syria. The Arab League is to meet this week to review the crisis.

The unrest began in the southern city of Deraa when residents started to call for democracy and greater freedom though not the President’s resignation. The government reacted violently by shooting at peaceful protestors, within days the unrest in Deraa had spiralled out of control and the military was sent in to crush the protestors. The crackdown failed to stop the unrest and instead spurred anti-government protests in other towns and cities around the country. The violence increased and so did the calls for the president to step down. Assad resolutely refused to step down but has made concessions and promised reform. Activists have said that these promises don’t mean anything as long as the violence continues. Syria is considered to be one of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East.

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