Syrian violence escalates, death toll rises
UNICEF says at least 384 children have died since uprising began
Two days of bloody turmoil in Syria killed at least 74 people, including small children, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad shelled residential buildings and fired on crowds in a dramatic escalation of violence, activists said Friday.
Video posted online showed the bodies of five small children, five women and a man, all bloodied and piled on beds in what appeared to be an apartment after a building was hit in the city of Homs. A narrator said an entire family had been "slaughtered."
Much of the violence was focused in Homs, where heavy gunfire hammered the city Friday in a second day of chaos. A day earlier, the city saw a flare-up of sectarian kidnappings and killings between its Sunni and Alawite communities, and pro-regime forces blasted residential buildings with mortars and gunfire, according to activists.
Nearly 400 children have died says UNICEF
At least 384 children have been killed, as of Jan. 7, in the crackdown on Syria's uprising since it began nearly 11 months ago, the UN children's agency UNICEF said Friday. The count, based on reports from human rights groups, included children under age 18.
Most of the deaths took place in Homs and most of the victims were boys, UNICEF said. It said 380 children have been detained, including some under age 14. The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have died in the turmoil.
UN Security Council meeting
The UN Security Council began closed-door negotiations Friday on a new Arab-European draft resolution aimed at resolving the crisis, but Russia's envoy said he could not back the current language.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters afterward that the text introduced by new Arab Security Council member Morocco has "red lines" for Moscow, but he's willing to "engage" with the resolution's sponsors.
Churkin said those lines include an indication of sanctions, including an arms embargo. "We need to concentrate on establishing political dialogue," he said.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant later insisted that the text based on the Arab League's recent recommendations for Syria contains no mention of an arms embargo or any other sanctions, and that it received broad support from other council members.
The Syrian uprising, which began last March with mostly peaceful protests, has become increasingly violent in recent months as army defectors clash with government forces and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves. The violence has inflamed the sectarian divide in the country, where members of Assad's Alawite sect dominate the regime despite a Sunni Muslim majority.
Activists said at least 35 people were killed in Homs on Thursday and another 39 people were killed across the country Friday.
The video posted Friday by activists showed the bodies of five young children, their faces bloodied, wrapped in orange plastic bags. It said the children were believed to be from two families, the Akras and the Bahadours. Brown cardboard placards with the children's names written in Arabic were placed on their chests, identifying them: Thanaa, Ali, Najm, Abdul-Ghani and Sidra.
The video could not be independently verified.
Impact of international pressure
Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said the spike in violence was linked to increasing pressure from the international community, the Arab League and the United Nations.
"The regime is trying to finish the matter through military means as soon as possible," and for that reason the level of violence increased," he said.
On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem insisted that Damascus will continue its crackdown and said Syria would not accept any international interference in its affairs.
Assad's regime claims terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy by the U.S., Israel and Gulf Arab countries are behind the uprising, not protesters seeking change.
The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has spiked over the past few days. Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday.