World and Nation

Siege paralyses Syrian city as shelling and toll mount

BEIRUT — The embattled Syrian city of Homs remained under siege for a sixth day Thursday, with sporadic tank shells ripping into contested neighborhoods, residents cowering at home and medical supplies dwindling, according to telephone interviews with residents.

“Nobody dares venture into the streets,” said a 65-year-old man named Mohamed, describing in a phone interview the blast of tank shells and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns as all he heard, even though his home is not close to the worst fighting.

With Homs largely sealed off by the Syrian military, activists relied on cellphone videos uploaded to YouTube to distribute images of the government offensive. The short video clips updated throughout the day showed streets cluttered with rubble from damaged buildings, houses collapsed on their owners and a bloody flow of victims either being treated in makeshift clinics or prepared for burial.

The images, although impossible to verify independently, left the hellish image of a city devoid of people but plagued by random eruptions of fiery, black smoke. They were punctuated with cries like “Bashar is a dog!” or “Bashar is a tyrant!” — all referring to President Bashar Assad.

Under such extreme conditions, with bodies believed trapped under the rubble, activist organizations’ estimates of the day’s death toll in Homs ranged from about 50 to more than 100.

Reaching Homs by any telephone proved difficult throughout most of Thursday, although intermittent cellphone service returned in the early evening. Much of the attention was focused on the neighborhood of Baba Amr, home to a fervent contingent of activists, but it was hardly alone.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, put the death toll in Homs at 52, with an additional 20 dead elsewhere. But it noted that communication with Homs was particularly difficult.

Those people who could be reached described the toll as mounting steadily in tandem with the shelling all day long, the Syrian Observatory said.

Although the Local Coordination Committees put the toll in Homs at 110, with about 20 more elsewhere in Syria, it noted that it could not fully document the deaths “due to the intense shelling.”

In the official version of events, the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that two members of the security forces were killed in Homs while eight others killed earlier were buried in Damascus and Latakia.