In battered Syrian city, cries of ‘tragic’ plight

BEIRUT (AP) — Medics stitch wounds with thread used for clothing. Hungry residents risk Syrian government sniper fire or shelling to hunt for dwindling supplies of bread and canned food on the streets of the besieged city of Homs.

The opposition stronghold was being destroyed “inch by inch,” by government forces, with collapsed walls and scorched buildings, according to accounts Thursday, while Western and Arab leaders hoped to silence the guns long enough to rush in relief aid.

The pressure for “humanitarian corridors” into the central Syrian city of Homs and other places caught in President Bashar Assad’s crushing attacks appeared to be part of shifts toward more aggressive steps against his regime after nearly a year of bloodshed and thousands of deaths in an anti-government uprising.

In back-to-back announcements, U.N.-appointed investigators in Geneva said a list for possible crimes against humanity prosecution reaches as high as Assad, and international envoys in London — including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — made final touches to an expected demand for Assad to call a cease-fire within days to permit emergency shipments of food and medicine.

Washington and European allies remain publicly opposed to direct military intervention. But there have been growing signs that Western leaders could back efforts to open channels for supplies and weapons to the Syrian opposition, which includes breakaway soldiers from Assad’s military.

In a sign of the international divide, however, key Assad ally Russia said Moscow and Beijing remain opposed to any foreign interference in Syria. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke by telephone with the president of the United Arab Emirates and emphasized that “foreign interference, attempts to assess the legitimacy of the leadership of a state from the outside, run counter to the norms of international law and are fraught with the threat of regional and global destabilization,” the Kremlin said.

At least 16 people were killed across Syria, activists said. One group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the number at 40 with attacks ranging from mountain villages to areas near the capital of Damascus. The reason for the differing tolls was not immediately clear.

The most intense offensive, however, remained on beleaguered Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. Its defiance — amid hundreds of civilian casualties in the past weeks — has eroded Assad’s narrative that the uprising is the work of “armed thugs” and foreign plots.

Images posted online and accounts from activists and correspondents smuggled in also have stirred comparisons to sieges such as Misrata during last year’s Arab Spring revolt in Libya.

The epicenter — the Baba Amr neighborhood on the city’s southeast corner — is a collection of slum-like apartment blocks with peeling paint and neglected older homes. They draw in workers and fortune-seekers from across Syria to a place known as the “mother of the poor” because of its cheaper cost of living, compared with Damascus or Aleppo.

“They are blanketing Baba Amr with shells and snipers. They are destroying it street by street, inch by inch,” local activist Omar Shaker told The Associated Press.

Bodies are buried wherever people can find space, they say. The wounded are too scared to try to reach government-controlled hospitals in other parts of the city. Instead, they stagger into makeshift clinics in kitchens and offices, Homs activist Mulham al-Jundi said.

He said clothing thread is now used after surgical sutures ran out. In some places, medics conduct operations by only the light of an office lamp. In the Bab Drieb neighborhood, volunteers get a crash course in basic first aid before being put to work.

“I saw a nurse teaching a couple of people what to do. They had no idea,” said al-Jundi. “It’s unbelievable and tragic.”

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