Dozens reported killed in Syria violence


Just days before the deadline for Syria to abide by a United Nations-backed peace plan, 54 people were reported killed across the country Wednesday, including 25 in the city of Homs as shelling and sniper fire there continued.

In the days since President Bashar Assad agreed to an April 10 deadline for a cease-fire, activists and observers have said the government’s crackdown against dissidents has intensified.

In Beit Sahm, a Damascus suburb, 15 civilians were reported killed in an explosion that destroyed two buildings. The opposition and the government each blamed the other for the incident.


State media reported that a building collapsed after explosive devices detonated in the basement as “terrorists” were putting them together. A nearby building was damaged, the Syrian Arab News Agency said.

Activists said a family that had fled from nearby Duma was killed in the building, and they blamed Assad’s forces. A pro-regime TV station was on the scene in less than 15 minutes to film the wreckage, according to the Revolutionary Council in the Damascus Suburbs, an observation often made by opposition activists to suggest that the quick response indicates the explosion was the work of the government.

Despite the continued crackdown, the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of opposition groups, reported numerous protests Wednesday, several calling for solidarity with Taftanaz, a town in Idlib province that was attacked Tuesday and described by some as a disaster area.

Taftanaz reportedly was bombarded by government warplanes, which have increasingly been used in recent weeks, according to activists and rebel fighters. At least 20 people were killed Tuesday and the attacks continued Wednesday, they said.

In Homs, where several neighborhoods were still being shelled, a Red Crescent distribution center was burned, government and a Red Cross official said.

The center was preparing to distribute humanitarian aid, including medicine, food, blankets and mattresses, said Saleh Dabbakeh, Damascus spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. No one was inside at the time.

This was not the first time property or aid volunteers have been attacked, he said, citing carjackings and kidnappings.

“Whether it was on purpose or by accident, these people are volunteers and they are internationally protected people,” Dabbakeh said. “First and foremost, it is a loss for the people and in the greatest time of need.”

Syrian state media blamed the fire on “an armed terrorist group.”

Times staff reported from Beirut.