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Over 200 Civilians Die in Syrian ‘Massacre’

Latest World News / DAMASCUS: Syrian forces killed at least 217 civilians, including women and children, in a “massacre” in the central city of Homs, a rights group said Saturday, ahead of a UN vote on the repression.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 138 of the fatalities were caused by mortar fire in the Al-Khalidiya district of Homs, which has become a flashpoint of the 10-month revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Another 79 people were killed in other parts of town. Following violence elsewhere, including Damascus, during the day, Friday’s overall death toll was around 250 and could still rise, the Observatory said.

“It’s a real massacre,” the observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, calling for the “immediate intervention” of the Arab League to end the killing.

The Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television channels showed images of dozens of bodies on the ground.

The violence broke out after thousands of people across Syria defied the government crackdown to mark the 30th anniversary of a notorious 1982 massacre in the central city of Hama that killed thousands.

News of the latest deaths came as a diplomat in New York said members of the UN Security Council would meet Saturday morning for a vote on a resolution condemning the violent repression in Syria.

The text is the same as a draft resolution sent to the council’s 15 members on Thursday.

It highlights the UN body’s support for an Arab League plan for a democratic transition while leaving out explicit references to calls for Assad to step down, the diplomat said Friday.

The Syrian rights group, called on the people “to take to the streets in the towns and villages and to rise up against the regime which is committing a real massacre right now in Homs.”

The Homs violence followed an already bloody day in which, the Syrian Observatory said, at least 35 other people were reported killed across Syria, among them 16 civilians.

The Britain-based group said 14 soldiers were killed in clashes with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and that five army deserters also lost their lives.

In addition, one person died of wounds sustained on Thursday, and the bodies of three other people were either found or returned to their families.

Amid growing concern that Syria is sliding into all-out civil war, an officer with the FSA claimed the regular army “is in a pitiful state and getting close to collapsing.”

The UN Security Council vote is expected on the same day that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to hold face-to-face talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, amid a fresh American push for passage of the resolution.

“It is the same text that’s going to a vote,” a UN diplomat said on Friday, referring to the draft resolution sent to the council’s 15 members the previous day.

The resolution faces an uncertain fate, as Moscow had maintained its opposition to a tougher draft resolution authored by Western powers and the Arab League.

Russia also said Friday it could not support the new draft in its current form, which states the council fully supports an Arab League plan to facilitate a democratic transition, but leaves out explicit references to calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The Security Council has yet to adopt a resolution on Syria despite 10 months of violence that has left more than 6,000 people dead, rights groups estimate. An earlier draft was blocked in October by China and Russia.

Clinton held what her spokesman described as “constructive” talks by telephone with Lavrov over the draft, and the pair were due to meet in Munich, likely ahead of the UN vote.

“You can be sure that Syria and the discussions at the UN will be one of the issues there, among many,” a senior State Department official said.

The new draft backs a January 22 Arab League request that Assad transfer power to a deputy and a government of national unity within two months but does not call on him to step down, according to a copy obtained by AFP.

Instead, it calls for a “Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system… including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States’ auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States.”

The draft also “condemns all violence from whatever source and… requires that all parties in Syria, including armed groups (opposition), immediately cease all violence or reprisal.”

The latest attempt at consensus emerged after hours of talks stalled in the Security Council, with Moscow leading the opposition to a tougher draft resolution authored by Western powers and the Arab League.

Diplomats said the new draft took into account concerns by Moscow, a staunch Damascus ally. AGENCIES

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