Syrian Troops Pound Homs as Turkey Urges Pressure Group


Syrian troops are continuing their assault on the protest hub of Homs, reportedly killing dozens of civilians, and Turkey says it plans to form an international group on Syria “as soon as possible” to coordinate policy among regional players and world powers.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces used tanks, rockets and mortars Wednesday to subdue resistance in Homs, killing at least 50 people and heavily damaging more than 20 buildings in a number of the city's rebel-held districts. Homs is under the fifth day of a relentless offensive that activists say has killed hundreds of people.
Casualty figures cannot be confirmed because Syria restricts independent reporting. Activists also documented intense clashes between pro-government groups and army defectors in northern Idlib province, in rebel-controlled Zabadani, near Damascus, and in southern Daraa province.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday that Ankara is ready to host an international conference to support the Syrian people and to send a message to President Bashar al-Assad to halt a brutal 11-month crackdown on his opponents.
Davutoglu said the new group of states should meet promptly in Turkey, or another country in the region, to resolve Syria's escalating crisis. He spoke before leaving for Washington for talks with congressional leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which analysts said would likely focus on the logistical challenges of humanitarian intervention in Syria.
Turkey has for months sheltered several thousand Syrian refugees, including members of the rebel Free Syrian Army. The opposition Syrian National Council opened an office in Istanbul in December.
Washington has been exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians, in cooperation with U.S. allies. Western powers and Arab nations have repeatedly said they do not want to intervene militarily in the Syrian crisis. The Obama administration shut its embassy in Damascus Monday as part of a Western and Arab campaign to isolate Mr. Assad and pressure him into stopping the crackdown.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Wednesday warned the West against outside intervention in Syria. Mr. Putin condemned all violence “regardless of its source,” but said outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict “independently.” He told Russian religious leaders Moscow must not let events like those in Libya and Syria be repeated at home.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delegated his deputy to hold a dialogue with the opposition after meeting Russia's top diplomat Tuesday in Damascus. Efforts by the Arab League and Russia to organize talks have been rejected by Syrian opposition groups angered by the Assad government's deadly crackdown.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday he had “very little confidence” in the Russian-Syrian efforts, while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Mr. Assad's promises were merely manipulation and should not be believed. The Syrian leader said Tuesday he will push ahead with promised reforms and soon set a date for a referendum on a new constitution aimed at broadening political participation.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called for urgent international action to protect civilians in Syria, saying she is “appalled” by the government's “willful assault on the city of Homs.” Pillay also said is it time for the international community to “cut through the politics and take action” to protect the civilian population.
The Syrian government blames the mayhem on “armed terrorists” bent on dividing and sabotaging the country.