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Syrian Homs Security Crackdown Continues; Germany Expels Diplomats

The bodies of what activists say are victims of shelling by the Syrian Army are seen in the Sunni district of Bab Amro in Homs on February 8.
What's described as a major Syrian government security operation in the central city of Homs has been continuing, and Syrian opposition activists say up to 31 civilians have been killed.

The latest casualty claims could not be independently verified because of Syrian government restrictions on the media.

Reports on February 9 said rocket and mortar bombardments were seen in several Homs districts.

Homs, a city of some 1 million people, has been a center of resistance to President Bashar al-Assad's regime during the 11-month conflict.

On February 4, security forces moved in with tanks and heavy weaponry in what the government called a bid to crush "terrorist groups" and restore security.

Hundreds of people have been reported killed in the latest Homs assault.

On February 8, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called for urgent action to protect civilians from a "massacre" by security forces.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking to journalists in New York, decried the violence and called on Assad to take responsibility.

"The situation has reached a totally unacceptable stage where more than -- much more than -- 5,000 people have been killed," he said, before urging Assad to ensure that the violence is "stopped immediately."

International Community Divided

The international community, however, continues to struggle on agreeing how to respond to the Syrian situation in the wake of the UN Security Council's failure on February 4 to adopt an Arab League-drafted resolution that called for an end to the fighting and for Assad to step down.

The draft was vetoed by Russia and China.

The Kremlin said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy discussed the situation in Syria via telephone on February 8.

The conversation came after France, Britain, and the United States expressed doubts about the results of this week's trip to Damascus by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks with Assad.

Lavrov said Assad was ready to end the violence in Syria and pursue a dialogue with opposition forces.

The opposition, though, has rejected a dialogue with Assad's regime, saying the president must leave power.

'Friends Of A Democratic Syria'

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Washington is holding consultations with its allies on forming what she called a "friends of a democratic Syria" group.

In another development, Germany's government has expelled four Syrian diplomats in connection with the arrests earlier this week of two men suspected of spying on Syrian opposition figures in Germany.

Police in Berlin on February 7 arrested a Syrian national and a man holding German and Lebanese citizenship, saying they were "strongly suspected" of spying on the opposition for the Syrian intelligence agency "for years."

On December 26, Green Party politician and Syrian activist Ferhad Ahma was severely beaten by unknown assailants in Berlin.

Compiled from agency reports

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