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Syrian security forces step up offensive for Homs areas

  15‚000 civilians trapped: Opposition Assad's mother and sister in UAE: US


AMMAN: The Syrian army has stepped up an offensive on opposition Sunni Muslim strongholds in the central city of Homs, bringing in ground forces and loyalist militia to try to secure a major road junction, opposition sources said today.

Around 15,000 Sunni civilians are trapped on the southern and western edge of the city near the intersection of Syria’s main north-south and east-west arteries, crucial to let the army travel between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, opposition campaigners in Homs said. Rebels said they had moved into new areas of Homs this month to grab more territory. Activists said that rebels had asked them not to report on the advances because it could provoke retaliatory strikes. In the south, eight members of Syria’s military intelligence were killed by an Islamist militant car bomb yesterday near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, opposition activists and a violence monitoring group said today. US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told CNN yesterday that Assad's mother Anisa Makhlouf and his sister Bushra had both moved to the United Arab Emirates. It is not clear why they left. Activist Nader al-Husseini, speaking from the western sector of Homs, said at least 10,000 pro-Assad shabbiha militiamen had been brought from the coastal city of Tartous to back up the regular army.

Keep borders open: UN

GENEVA: The United Nations on Friday urged Syria’s neighbours to keep open their borders to civilians fleeing the intensifying conflict and said that the refugee exodus into Jordan was “absolutely dramatic”. More than 30,000 Syrians have arrived in Jordan’s main Zaatri camp this year, including 4,400 on Thursday and another 2,000 overnight, it said. Most were fleeing fighting in the southern area of Deraa, food and fuel shortages and high prices. Turkey has said that camps are filling up as soon as they are built and officials in Jordan said this week it would keep its borders open but wanted other countries to help it boost its ability to cope with the influx. —

Call to arm rebels

DAVOS: A senior member of Saudi Arabia’s monarchy called on Friday for Syrian rebels to be given anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to “level the playing field” in their battle against President Assad. “I’m not in government so I don’t have to be diplomatic. I assume we’re sending weapons and if we were not sending weapons it would be terrible mistake on our part,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and brother of Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. “ Most of the weapons the rebels have come from captured

Syrian stocks and defectors bringing their weapons,” he said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

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