Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Middle East

Tanks shell Homs after UN vote


Syrian troops have shelled rebel-held neighbourhoods in the city of Homs, a day after the UN General Assembly condemned human rights violations by the regime.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shells were slamming into the Homs neighbourhoods of Baba Amr, Bayadah, Khaldiyeh and Inshaat.

Syrian troops have been attacking the neighbourhoods on February 4. Amateur videos showed at least one tank shelling Baba Amr from a close distance.

Homs, a province in central Syria that stretches from the border with Lebanon in the west to the frontiers with Iraq and Jordan in the east, has been one of the key centres of the 11-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule.

The rebels have taken control of small parts of the province including neighbourhoods in the city of Homs and the nearby town of Rastan.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has accused the Syrian regime of committing "almost certain" crimes against humanity.

The UN General Assembly also overwhelmingly voted for a resolution that strongly condemns human rights violations by Assad's government. According to the UN, more than 5,400 people have been killed since March in the regime's bloody crackdown.

The 193-member UN General Assembly voted 137-12 on the Arab-sponsored resolution calling on Assad to hand power to his vice president and immediately stop the crackdown. There were 17 abstentions.

Though there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and its resolutions are non-binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues. Russia and China, who recently vetoed a similar resolution in the UN Security Council, voted against the General Assembly measure along with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and others who heededSyria's appeal against the measure.

The high number of "yes" votes was the strongest international condemnation so far of Assad.

"Today, the UN General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria: The world is with you," US Ambassador Susan Rice said.

The Observatory also reported clashes between troops and defectors in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, saying one civilian and one of the regime forces were killed.

More protests against the regime were expected following Friday prayers.

In other developments, state-run news agency SANA said that the command of the ruling Baath party has postponed its general conference scheduled for later this month until after a referendum on the country's new draft constitution is held.

Assad has ordered a February 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the Assad family for 40 years.