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Syria's Assad reportedly launching ground invasion of Homs

While the rebel stronghold has been pummeled by indiscriminate shelling for weeks, an influx of troops could lead to door-to-door searches, arrests, and potential torture of key activists.

By Staff writer / February 28, 2012

Smoke from shelling rises over the Khaldiyeh area of Homs, Syria, on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Reuters

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The day after Syrians approved a new Constitution in a nationwide referendum, which ostensibly could lead to a more democratic system of government, President Bashar al-Assad appeared to be voting with his tanks for continued repression.

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Reuters reports that, according to activists in the opposition stronghold of Homs, Mr. Assad sent tanks and troops from an elite armored division of the Syrian Army led by his brother into the city. The tanks were reportedly labeled "Fourth Division Monsters."

Since an aerial bombardment of Homs began three weeks ago, residents had expressed fear that the brutal air assault against the city was merely laying the groundwork for a ground invasion by the Army.
 
Hundreds have died in the air assault on Homs – activists estimated 68 deaths yesterday alone, Bloomberg reports, and footage of the carnage has flooded YouTube and social networking sites. But an influx of troops could be yet worse in some ways, potentially leading to door-to-door sweeps, arrests, and potential torture of detainees out of the spotlight of media and fellow citizens.

As the death toll climbs past 8,000 (according to human rights groups) and Assad continues to defy all Western attempts to pressure him into ending the violence, international leaders are scrambling to find a course of action. Yesterday the European Union ratcheted up sanctions on the Syrian regime by placing sanctions on the central bank and seven more government ministers, banning cargo flights from Syrian airline carriers, and banning trade on gold, diamonds, and some other precious metals, The Wall Street Journal reports.
 
The EU foreign ministers also recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group representing the opposition, as a “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people (but not “the” legitimate representative, as happened with Libya’s Transitional National Council, as Tony Karon notes in Time.)
 
Western leaders called the constitutional referendum and its results a farce. But Russia and China – who have repeatedly blocked international efforts to take stronger action against Syriasaid they were a step toward reform and reiterated their opposition to a military intervention in Syria, The New York Times reports.

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