Syria regime tanks reportedly enter Homs

In this Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and accessed on Feb. 23, 2012, flames rise from a house from Syrian government shelling, at Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, Syria.
AP/Local Coordination Committees in Syria

BEIRUT - Activists say Syrian forces have resumed shelling an opposition stronghold in Homs a day after attacks on the area killed dozens of people including two Western journalists, and have driven tanks into one neighborhood in what could be the beginning of an expected ground siege.

"Tanks have entered the Jobar area in the south of Baba Amr," said activist Abu Imad, according to the Reuters news agency, which said he contacted them from inside the besieged city.

The activists say intense barrages Thursday hit residential districts in Baba Amr neighborhood, where veteran American war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed on Wednesday. There was no immediate word on casualties.

American, French journalists killed in Syria
Marie Colvin focused reporting on women, children
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Colvin and Ochlik were among a group of journalists who had crossed into Syria illegally and were sharing accommodations with activists, raising speculation that government forces targeted the makeshift media center where they were staying. But opposition groups had previously described the shelling as indiscriminate.

Negotiations continue to try to get the bodies of Colvin and Ochlik out of the country, as well as three other wounded Western journalists who need medical attention, reports Clarissa Ward.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman offered condolences to the families of Colvin and Ochlik but rejected any responsibility for their deaths. The spokesman urged foreign journalists to respect Syrian laws and not to sneak into the country.

Some Syrians held protests and vigils Wednesday night in several parts of Homs in commemoration of Colvin and Ochlik.

"Remi Ochlik, Marie Colvin, we will not forget you," read one banner held by protesters in the town of Qsour in Homs province.

Hundreds of people have died in nearly three weeks of siege-style attacks on Homs, Syria's third-largest city. Death tolls are difficult to verify, but one Syrian activist told CBS News that 60 people were killed in one hour Wednesday. Dwindling supplies of food, water and medicine also are taking their toll on thousands of civilians. Babies are being fed sugar and water because there is no formula left and new mothers are too traumatized to produce milk, Ward reports.

Syrian forces, including armored personnel carriers, tanks and scores of troops had been massing around Homs for days, preparing for what activists expected to be a ground assault to try and clear the city of opposition forces.

Homs has come under near constant bombardment - including what appears to be random shelling of civilian areas - from the regime's artillery for weeks. While there are no accurate death toll figures available, activists say hundreds of people, including many women and children, have been killed.

In the northwestern city of Aleppo, security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of students at Aleppo University staging an anti-regime protest. Aleppo, like the capital Damascus, has remained relatively quiet during the nearly year-long anti-government uprising gripping the country. But the city has become increasingly tense, particularly Aleppo University where authorities fired on protesting students on Wednesday and killed one.

In Geneva, a panel of U.N. human rights experts said Thursday that the United Nations has a secret list of top Syrian officials who could face investigation for crimes against humanity carried out by security forces in their crackdown against the anti-government uprising.

U.N.: Syria atrocities ordered from "highest level"
U.S., allies set to "challenge" Assad to end siege

The U.N. experts indicated that the list goes as high as President Bashar Assad.

The U.N. Human Rights Council report says that Syria's military targeted civilians, shelled homes, raped and killed unarmed women and children, and tortured wounded protestors.

The report, assembled by independent U.N. investigators from Brazil, Turkey, and the United States, name names in a confidential list of government officials and commanding military officers.

"The commission received credible and consistent evidence identifying high and mid-ranking members of the armed forces who ordered their subordinates to shoot at unarmed protesters, kill soldiers who refused to obey such orders, arrest persons without cause, mistreat detained persons and attack civilian neighborhoods with indiscriminate tanks and machine gun fire," the report says.

Thousands of Syrians have died in the violence since March and the panel, citing what it called a reliable source, said at least 500 children are among the dead.

Experts say the list is initially likely to be more of a deterrent against further abuses than a direct threat to the Assad regime. Syria isn't a member of the International Criminal Court so its jurisdiction doesn't apply there, and Russia would likely block any moves in the U.N. Security Council to refer the country to the Hague-based tribunal.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other leading European and Arab diplomats - a group calling itself the "Friends of Syria" - met Thursday in London on the margins of an international conference on Somalia.

According to a senior U.S. official, the group will "challenge the Assad regime to respond within days."

At a major meeting in Tunis set for Friday, more than 70 nations are expected to look at ways to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad's opponents, who now include defected military officers and soldiers.

Secretary Clinton is working on the details of what the conference should accomplish.

According to diplomats from the U.S. and other countries with knowledge of the talks, the Tunis "wish-list" will likely demand that Assad order a ceasefire in the attack on Homs and other cities to allow access for humanitarian aid to flow.

Those familiar with the talks say it will also call for increased recognition of the Syrian National Council and renewed efforts for Arab states to enforce economic sanctions against the Assad regime.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio that military intervention was very unlikely, as "the consequences of any outside intervention are much harder to foresee."

A senior EU official said foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next week will add seven Syrian government ministers to those already sanctioned. Sanctions include asset freezes and visa bans for officials, commanders of the security forces and others considered responsible for human rights abuses.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of EU rules, said additional restrictions may be imposed on Syria's central bank, on imports of precious metals from the country, and on cargo flights.

The EU had already sanctioned more than 70 Syrians and 19 organizations, and has banned imports of Syrian crude oil.