Libya

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Fighting terrorists never works out as we hope. The threat of violent extremists is not new to this millennium. Fears of small, organized groups undermining authority at home and abroad go back at least to the 19th century in Europe, North America and other continents. The fears of harm usually exceed the realities of danger, but the dangers are real nonetheless. Although terrorists have never brought down a major power, they have caused major dislocation and suffering in countless societies (including Russia, Germany and China.)

The contemporary Middle East has endured decades of terrorism since at least the early 1970s. The extremism has silenced moderate voices and the violence has splintered governing institutions into tribal tyrannies. The disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and other countries, and the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, among others, are recent manifestations of this historical process. The terrorists have hijacked the region’s politics and replaced civil society with gang warfare. Citizens are defined by the group they belong to; disloyalty is punished with death.

Recognizing that terrorism in the Middle East threatens the broader international community, Americans have spent decades trying to fight it. The nature of American counter-terrorism has shifted in regular fashion between two schools of thought.

One school, the “development” approach, has emphasized investments in education, health and economic growth to encourage citizens of terrorized societies to embrace good government. The goal has been to build a grassroots constituency for civil authority and a broad cohort of citizens with the skills to run a prosperous, open society. The Peace Corps, the World Bank, USAID and many other American-sponsored organizations pursue this approach of treating the poor conditions that appear to produce terrorism.

The second school, the “combat” approach, defines terrorists as foreign armies that must be defeated. Proponents of this approach deploy overwhelming force to kill and capture terrorist leaders, destroy their resources and punish their supporters. Through aggressive intelligence work, including the torture of suspected terrorists with valuable information, the combat school aims to grind terrorist organizations to dust, making them more pathetic than threatening. Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”), Army and Navy Special Forces and CIA covert operatives are the lead actors for those who seek to go in hard and fast to defeat the extremists.

In our long history with counterterrorism, Americans have alternated their emphasis between these two schools, experiencing the frustrating limits of each. In the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, the United States focused on development in the Middle East, encouraging investments in business enterprises, the rule of law and education throughout the region. Each of these areas of development showed some progress, but powerful actors (including the oil-rich leaders of the Gulf states and wealthy individuals like Osama bin Laden) also expanded their support for terrorist groups. While regional development contributed to a new generation of entrepreneurs, it also inspired a new generation of extremists among those who turned to religious fundamentalisms rather than more cosmopolitan ideas.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Americans decisively favored force over development. That seemed necessary to stop the groups that had shown a desire and a capability of killing thousands of citizens. Force also appeared to produce results in the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. After 2003, when insurgencies in both countries exposed the limits of this strategy, Americans accepted that they could not totally destroy the terrorists, but they hoped to keep them scattered and under heavy pressure. Even as he withdrew American forces depart from Iraq and as troops withdraw from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama held to this strategy through the use of increased drone attacks on terrorist leaders, and special covert interventions, including the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

Of course, the use of force against terrorists has not proven more successful than prior development efforts. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are more dominated by terrorists today than they were in late 2001. The United States has spent billions of dollars training counter-terrorist forces in the region and bombing from the air, but it is not clear if these actions have killed or inspired more terrorists.

There is no proven solution to terrorism in either the development or the combat schools. Ignoring the problem, as many Americans might prefer now, is no solution either, especially when the fate of an economically vital region like the Middle East is at stake. The future of American counterterrorism policy will involve new innovative ways to mix the promise of development with the power of combat. The United States has failed to strike the correct balance in recent decades. Finding the pathways to civil order between corrupting handouts of foreign aid and alienating attacks from the air – that is the supreme challenge for a new generation of policy-makers. It is an intellectual opportunity for our best minds to help bring some order to a violent, fragmenting world.

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.  

Photo Credit: Zoe Davis | Daily Texan Staff

In a talk at the John B. Connally Center for Justice on Monday, Allan Gerson, chairman of AG International Law, PLLC discussed the deportation of Nazi collaborators in the 1970s, lawsuits against Libya for the Pan American Flight 103 bombing and a lawsuit against Yale University for a valuable painting allegedly acquired unlawfully. 

“There are difficulties between navigating international law, international affairs and the uses of American law as practice in different quadrants,” Gerson said.

He talked about his experiences with international law in three different areas: individual accountability for war crimes, state accountability for the equivalent of war crimes and state accountability in U.S. quadrants, such as in the case of the lawsuit against Yale University.

“The questions about how this painting ever was sold to the United States dealt with actions taken by a foreign government, mainly Russia,” Gerson said. “Yale invoked the Act of State Doctrine to prevent a U.S. court from looking at the circumstances involving the taking and the sale of the painting, even though there was no objection from Russia itself.”

Austin resident Harvey Burg said finding where accountability lies can only be approached on a case-by-case basis.

“I think the speaker’s point was that, by immediately demanding accountability, you draw rigged lines, and, if your objective is to gain international cooperation and you accuse [a country] as being an aggressor [against another country], then you may create a situation in which there is no flexibility to negotiate results,” Burg said. “I would argue that in some instances that works, but, in other instances, it is fair to ask whether the failure to demand accountability permits unlawful aggressive behavior to continue.”

Gerson’s talk was presented by The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Gerson said Strauss, who died Wednesday at the age of 95, successfully bridged together law and international relations. During her introduction of Gerson, Ashley Moran, associate at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, said she believed Strauss was a great public servant and a Texas legend.

“The legacy he leaves behind gives us all something to emulate,” she said. “His life and legacy really embodied all of those fields in private sector, public service and academia and something we strive to live up to at the Strauss Center.”

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The FBI director met with top Libyan officials on Thursday to discuss the probe into last year’s killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi where authorities are planning a curfew following an upsurge in violence, Libyan officials said.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11, 2012 in an attack that Washington officials suspect was carried out by militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist group. There has been little news of progress in the investigation, and U.S. officials have complained about poor cooperation with governments in the region.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the visit, said FBI Director Robert Mueller discussed the case in Tripoli with senior officials, including the prime minister, justice minister and intelligence chief.

It is unclear when authorities plan to impose a curfew following a string of deadly attacks, assassinations of top security officials and other unrest in recent months. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said on Wednesday that 18,000 new police recruits would be dispatched to the city to enforce the curfew.

Interior Minister Ashour Shaweil told reporters that when it starts, it will be enforced for five hours every night beginning at midnight. Several check points will be installed around the city, he said.

Authorities in Libya have been struggling to form unified army and police force since 2011 when former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in a mass uprising that turned to armed conflict when citizens raised arms against Gadhafi’s forces.

In recent months, there has been a series of assassinations of top security officials and bombings of security headquarters in the northeastern city of Benghazi. Some blame Islamist extremists, but residents suspect more than one group is involved and that some of the violence is being carried out by those who have personal vendettas against officials who once served in Gadhafi’s police force.

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) — The White House said Wednesday that President Barack Obama considers the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya a terrorist attack.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said it is “certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, and the president’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.” Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Carney’s comments came after Republican Mitt Romney accused Obama of failing to acknowledge what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials have said — that the attacks in Benghazi were acts of terrorism against the U.S.

Obama has declined several chances to call the incident a terrorist attack. He said last week that extremists used an anti-Islam video as an excuse to assault U.S. interests.

Carney, who speaks for Obama, had himself declared the violence a terrorist attack last week.

On Capitol Hill, eight Republicans who head House committees sent a letter to Obama saying they were disturbed by statements from administration officials suggesting that the attack was a protest gone wrong rather than a terrorist attack. They said they would be willing to return to Washington from Congress’ nearly two-month recess if the administration scheduled another briefing on Libya.

Clinton and senior Pentagon and intelligence officials briefed members of the House and Senate last Thursday on Libya.

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Obama considers Libya attack terrorism

A Pakistani protester holds a stone as others hang a flag at the entry of the U.S. consulate during a demonstration in Karachi Pakistan on Sunday. Hundreds of Pakistanis protesting clashed with police while thousands of others held peaceful demonstrations.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan — Hundreds of Pakistanis protesting an anti-Islam film broke through a barricade near the U.S. Consulate in the southern city of Karachi on Sunday, sparking clashes with police in which one demonstrator was killed and more than a dozen injured.

In a move that could escalate tensions around the Arab world, the leader of the Hezbollah militant group called for protests against the movie, saying protesters should not only ‘express our anger’ at U.S. embassies but urge leaders to act.

The film, which denigrates Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, has sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries in recent days, including one in Libya in which the U.S. ambassador was killed. The U.S. has responded by deploying additional military forces to increase security in certain hotspots.

In a televised speech, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said the U.S. must be held accountable for the film, which was produced in the United States. The U.S. government has condemned the film.

“The ones who should be held accountable and boycotted are those who support and protect the producers, namely the U.S. administration,” Nasrallah said. He called for protests on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

He urged protesters to call on their leaders to express their anger too.

“We should not only express our anger at an American embassy here or there. We should tell our rulers in the Arab and Muslim world that it is ‘your responsibility in the first place’ and since you officially represent the governments and states of the Muslim world you should impose on the United States, Europe and the whole world that our prophet, our Quran and our holy places and honor of our Prophet be respected,” he told his followers in a televised speech.

Nasrallah said he waited to speak out about the film until Sunday, when Pope Benedict XVI ended his three-day trip to Lebanon.

In Pakistan, police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters in Karachi after they broke through the barricade and reached the outer wall of the U.S. Consulate, police officer Mohammad Ranjha said. The protesters threw stones and bricks, prompting the police to beat back the crowd with their batons. The police and private security guards outside the consulate also fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

One protester was killed during the clash, said Ali Ahmar, spokesman for the Shiite Muslim group that organized the rally.

An official with the main ambulance service in the city, Khurram Ahmad, confirmed they carried away one dead protester and 18 others who were injured.

All Americans who work at the consulate, which is located in the heart of Karachi, were safe, Rian Harris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said.

Thousands more held peaceful demonstrations against the film in other parts of the country, including the eastern city of Lahore and the northwest city of Dera Ismail Khan.

The demonstration in Lahore was organized by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, believed to be a front organization for a powerful militant group blamed for attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed over 160 people. The protesters shouted anti-U.S. slogans and burned an American flag.

“Our war will continue until America is destroyed!” shouted some of the protesters. “Dog, dog, America is a dog!” chanted others.

The head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, addressed the crowd and demanded the Pakistani government shut down the U.S. Embassy and all consulates in the country until the filmmakers are punished.

The protests were set off by a low-budget, crudely produced film called “Innocence of Muslims,” which portrays Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester.

A 14-minute excerpt of the film, which is both in English and dubbed into Arabic, has been available on YouTube, although . Some countries have cut access to the site.

The violence began Tuesday when mainly Islamist protesters climbed the U.S. Embassy walls in the Egyptian capital of Cairo and tore down the American flag from a pole in the courtyard.

Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, also was killed Tuesday along with three other Americans, as violent protesters stormed the consulate in Benghazi. President Barack Obama has vowed that the attackers would be brought to justice but also stressed that the U.S. respects religious freedom.

In a security shake-up following the attack on the consulate, the Libyan interior minister has fired three security officials in the eastern city, including the head of the Benghazi security sector, and the deputy interior minister in Benghazi, said senior security official Adel Rajouba. The decisions came following a government meeting and the three were fired because of “the lawlessness,” Rajouba said.

The intensity of the anti-American fervor initially caught U.S. leaders by surprise, but in the last several days the Obama administration has called for calm and urged foreign governments to protect American interests in their countries.

“I think that we have to continue to be very vigilant because I suspect that ... these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Sunday.

It has been unclear how much of the violence was spontaneously triggered by the film and how much of it was spurred on by anti-American militants using it as a tool to grow and enrage the crowds.

Libya’s Interim President Mohammed el-Megarif said Sunday that the attackers who killed the U.S. ambassador in the country appeared to have spent months preparing and carefully choosing their date — the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He pointed to a second raid on a safe house. “All this indicates clearly that the attackers are well trained and well prepared and have planned this in advance,” he said in an interview.

But the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, brushed aside his assessment, saying evidence gathered so far indicated it was a spontaneous reaction to the anti-Islam video and not a premeditated or coordinated strike.

“It seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons,” said Rice, referring to the mortars and rocket-propelled grenades used in the attack.

Whether the attackers had ties to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups has yet to be determined, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said, noting that the FBI has yet to complete its investigation.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Western works critical of Islam have triggered spontaneous unrest throughout the Middle East, she said, pointing to the novel “Satanic Verses” by British author Salman Rushdie and the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper in 2006.

A semiofficial religious foundation in Iran increased a reward it had offered for killing Rushdie to $3.3 million from $2.8 million, a hard-line Iranian newspaper reported Sunday, a move that appeared to be linked to the protests against the video.

Printed on Monday, September 17, 2012 as: Protests over prophet film continue

Editor’s note: Bob Krueger served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and on the Texas Railroad Commission before becoming the American ambassador to Burundi in 1994. He spoke with Daily Texan associate editor Kayla Oliver about the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the political prospects of Texas Democrats and the lessons of public service. This fall, Krueger is teaching a Liberal Arts Honors and Plan II class called “Heroes in Life and Literature.”

Daily Texan: When you were serving as ambassador to Burundi in the 1990s, you narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by an extremist group unhappy with your advocacy for the disenfranchised. Could you describe why you chose to take such an active role in the country’s politics, as did Ambassador Stevens in Libya?
Senator Bob Krueger: Well, an ambassador is a personal representative of the president of the United States. That’s what being an ambassador plenipotentiary means: you have all the powers of the president for United States citizens in that country. It is a huge privilege, of course, to represent the United States anywhere. The genocide I was amid — if you adjusted for the difference in population between Burundi and the United States — was like having ten Twin Towers attacks every week nonstop. Nothing was being reported. There was not a single international reporter there. I thought, I can do two things: I can do what I can to save democracy, and I can do what I can to save lives, and nothing else mattered to me. If I was to remain silent, then who was to speak? If the representative of the world’s most powerful country was afraid to speak, who else would speak?

DT: Does the Libyan government have any responsibility for failing to prevent the attack?
BK: What we have to understand is we are the oldest continuous democracy in the world. We are an immensely powerful nation, and we still have assassins and crazies who do things like killing Sikhs in a church or who take out a gun in a Colorado movie and shoot fifty-odd people. And that’s where we have a strong legal government. Think about what happens where you have a fledgling government just trying to get underway. We have to understand that their government is still under threat from radicals in Libya and radicals coming from outside. The government is seeking their own footing. We’ve had a couple of hundred years and we still have these challenges. We have to put this in a global and historical context and understand that their country is just trying to get underway in a democracy. It’s the same position we might have been in in 1777.

DT: How should the American government respond to the situation?
BK: I think we’re responding appropriately. We have sent Marines to shore up the defense at the embassy itself. Fifty United States Marines are worth a lot more than that many from any other location, and they will come equipped and trained and ready to protect American interests. And we are sending a couple of destroyers that will have drones for observation. I think there’s no doubt that we’re responding with strength, but we don’t know just which group was responsible for this attack, and we certainly can’t go out in another country and think we’ll find the perpetrators. What we need in such instances are cool heads, historical understanding, broad vision and not a silly ‘cowboys and Indians’ approach — saying, “By gosh, I’m going to pull out my gun and get ‘em!” We wouldn’t know who to get.

DT: You were the last Democrat to serve as U.S. Senator from Texas. What realistic odds do you give the Democrat on the November ballot, Paul Sadler, for that seat?
BK: Well, obviously the odds are against him. On the other hand, one never knows in an election what can happen. Sadler is a responsible individual; he is not an ideologue. He has sought to work with people of both parties, and I think he is better qualified to bring some sort of coherence and comity in Washington than an extremist whose economic and other policies are antediluvian.

DT: What have been the disadvantages for Texas to not have a Democrat representing it in the U.S. Senate when one occupies the White House?
BK: I think a Democrat is likely to be a better, more responsible senator and it’s always a benefit, particularly for the second most populous state in the Union, to have connections with both parties rather than just one.

DT: What could a Democrat do to win a statewide office in Texas in November, given the polls?
BK: I suppose hope, pray and do his or her best. We never know what can suddenly turn an election. The odds are against it, but when I first ran for the Senate the odds were against me — I was up against an 18-year incumbent — and I lost only by three votes per thousand.

DT: What one lesson do you think UT undergraduates may take away from their years on campus that will inspire them to work to stop, if they have the opportunity in their lifetime, a genocide like the one you made the world pay attention to in Rwanda and Burundi?
BK:
My own experience in life is that there is no real satisfaction in simply seeking money or things. Looking back, the richest experience I had actually was not either during my time in the Senate or perhaps even in the House. It was when I was in Burundi, an assignment that most people would not have wanted. It gave me a chance to work to save democracy and work to save lives. That was for me an immense privilege. I wouldn’t trade a hundred million dollars for that privilege.

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s parliament elected Wednesday a leading member in the country’s oldest opposition movement to be its new prime minister.

Mustafa Abu-Shakour is tasked with stabilizing a country where armed groups proliferate. Washington’s ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed during a late Tuesday attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Abu-Shakour, deputy to Libya’s outgoing interim prime minister, is considered a compromise figure acceptable to both Islamists and liberals.

He is the first elected head of government since the ouster and slaying of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in last year’s civil war.

He hails from the National Front Party, an offshoot of a longstanding anti-Gadhafi movement that includes both Islamist and secular figures. He narrowly beat liberal Mahmoud Jibril by 96 votes out of 190.

Previous interim governments have faced persistent criticism that they have been ineffective in tackling the multiple troubles facing the deeply divided nation, foremost among them the strength of armed militias that dominate towns and challenge the authority of the central government.

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — A high-ranking government official is denying that Mauritania had agreed to hand over one of Moammar Gadhafi’s ex-intelligence chief for trial in Libya.

His comment comes only hours after Libya’s spokesman told reporters that Mauritania was planning to extradite Abdullah al-Senoussi back to Libya.

The official, who is close to the negotiations and who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussion, told The Associated Press by telephone that “Mauritania had given no assurances whatsoever to Libya regarding handing over al-Senoussi.”

He adds that Libya had gone ahead with the declaration in order to “force Mauritania’s hand.”

Gadhafi’s former intelligence chief is accused of attacking civilians during the uprising in Libya last year and of the 1989 bombing of a French airliner.

Libyan men, one waving a pre-Gadhafi flag, attend a funeral in Benghazi, Libya on Monday for victims buried in a mass grave.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya — Tribal leaders and militia commanders declared oil-rich eastern Libya a semiautonomous state on Tuesday, a unilateral move that the interim head of state called a “dangerous” conspiracy by Arab nations to tear the country apart six months after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.

Thousands of representatives of major tribes, militia commanders and politicians made the declaration at a conference in the main eastern city of Benghazi, insisting it was not intended to divide the country. They said they want their region to remain part of a united Libya, but needed to do this to stop decades of discrimination against the east.

The conference declared that the eastern state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital — Benghazi, the country’s second largest city — to run its own affairs. Foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to the central government in the capital Tripoli in western Libya. Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from the center to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Tripoli-based interim central government known as the National Transitional Council, warned the declaration “leads to danger” of eventually breaking up the North African nation of 6 million. But he also said it was to be expected, because the east played a pivotal role in ending Gadhafi’s rule.

The interim leader has not in the past blamed any Arab nation for meddling, while praising Gulf nations like Qatar, which was supportive of the rebels fighting Gadhafi.

Abdul-Jalil appealed to Libyans for patience and resolve in the face of the country’s mounting problems.

Fadl-Allah Haroun, a senior tribal figure and militia commander, said the declaration aims for administrative independence, not separation.

“We are not talking about changing the flag or national anthem. We are talking about different administration, a parliament and managing the financial affairs,” he said.

The east was the cradle of last year’s uprising and civil war that ousted Gadhafi. In the early days of the revolt, the entire east came under opposition control and remained that way until Gadhafi fell in August. The eastern rebels set up the National Transitional Council, originally in Benghazi, which then moved to Tripoli and became the central government.

This satellite image, taken last Wednesday, shows a pipeline fire in Homs, Syria. The pipeline, which runs through a rebel-held neighborhood, had been shelled by regime troops for the previous 12 days, according to two activist groups. The state news agency, SANA, blamed “armed terrorists” for the attack.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Medics stitch wounds with thread used for clothing. Hungry residents risk Syrian government sniper fire or shelling to hunt for dwindling supplies of bread and canned food on the streets of the besieged city of Homs.

The opposition stronghold was being destroyed “inch by inch,” by government forces, with collapsed walls and scorched buildings, according to accounts Thursday, while Western and Arab leaders hoped to silence the guns long enough to rush in relief aid.

The pressure for “humanitarian corridors” into the central Syrian city of Homs and other places caught in President Bashar Assad’s crushing attacks appeared to be part of shifts toward more aggressive steps against his regime after nearly a year of bloodshed and thousands of deaths in an anti-government uprising.

In back-to-back announcements, U.N.-appointed investigators in Geneva said a list for possible crimes against humanity prosecution reaches as high as Assad, and international envoys in London made final touches to an expected demand for Assad to call a cease-fire within days to permit emergency shipments of food
and medicine.

Washington and European allies remain publicly opposed to direct military intervention. But there have been growing signs that Western leaders could back efforts to open channels for supplies and weapons to the Syrian opposition, which includes breakaway soldiers.

In a sign of the international divide, however, key Assad ally Russia said Moscow and Beijing remain opposed to any foreign interference in Syria. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke by telephone with the president of the United Arab Emirates and emphasized that “foreign interference, attempts to assess the legitimacy of the leadership of a state from the outside, run counter to the norms of international law and are fraught with the threat of regional and global destabilization,” the Kremlin said.

“It is a deeply frustrating situation,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio ahead of the London talks. He said that the Assad regime “has continued to act seemingly with impunity.”

At least 16 people were killed across Syria, activists said. One group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the number at 40 with attacks ranging from mountain villages to areas near the capital of Damascus. The reason for the differing tolls was not immediately clear.

The most intense offensive, however, remained on beleaguered Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. Its defiance — amid hundreds of civilian casualties in the past weeks — has eroded Assad’s narrative that the uprising is the work of “armed thugs” and foreign plots.

Images posted online and accounts from activists and correspondents smuggled in — including two Western journalists killed Wednesday — also have stirred comparisons to sieges such as Misrata during last year’s Arab Spring revolt in Libya.

The epicenter — the Baba Amr neighborhood on the city’s southeast corner — is a collection of slum-like apartment blocks with peeling paint and neglected older homes. They draw in workers and fortune-seekers from across Syria to a place known as the “mother of the poor” because of its cheaper cost of living, compared with Damascus or Aleppo.

“They are blanketing Baba Amr with shells and snipers. They are destroying it street by street, inch by inch,” said activist Omar Shaker.

Residents say 70 percent of the area is now inhabitable in harsh winter weather with temperatures dipping close to freezing some nights. Walls have collapsed; windows are shattered from shells that fall as much as two-a-minute during some of the heaviest barrages.

Another Homs activist, Mulham al-Jundi, called the conditions “catastrophic” in parts of the city, spreading over a valley in central Syria just 18 miles from the Lebanese border. Long lines form at even rumors of bread, cans of food or fuel for heaters, he said.

“There simply isn’t enough to go around anymore,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria’s state-run media pushed back with its own version: Running photos on the official news agency SANA that claim to show markets full of food in Homs. It called the claims about food shortages “fabricating lies.”

Activists give a very different view. Bodies are buried wherever people can find space, they say. The wounded are too scared to try to reach government-controlled hospitals in other parts of the city. Instead, they stagger into makeshift clinics in kitchens and offices, al-Jundi said.

He said clothing thread is now used after surgical sutures ran out. In some places, medics conduct operations by only the light of an office lamp. In the Bab Drieb neighborhood, volunteers get a crash course in basic first aid before being put to work.

“I saw a nurse teaching a couple of people what to do. They had no idea,” said al-Jundi. “It’s unbelievable and tragic.”

Homs — which is mostly Sunni — was an early flashpoint of dissent against Assad’s regime, which is led by the minority Alawite community, which has Shiite power Iran as its main patron.

In April, protesters gathered at the central Clock Square in Homs, bringing mattresses, food and water in hopes of emulating Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution. Homs had a reputation for tolerance between Syria’s religions and Muslim sects, said Mohammad Saleh, an opposition figure who fled the city, but Sunnis have increasingly felt pushed into an underclass status by Assad.

A Western intelligence official said the Syrian military has the ability to “level Homs if it wanted to.” But the risks of backlash from Syria’s majority Sunnis — including many military officers — is far too great , said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under briefing rules. On Wednesday, shelling of Baba Amr killed American-born veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

They 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. At least two other Western journalists were wounded on Wednesday.

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 to honor 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.

Two other journalists were wounded. In a video posted on YouTube, one of those injured, Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro, said her leg is broken in two places and that she has received some medical treatment but now needs an operation. Bouvier said she was speaking Thursday and is calm throughout the more than six-minute video.

The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in repression by the Assad regime against a popular uprising that began 11 months ago. That figure was given in January and has not been updated. Syrian activists put the death toll at more than 7,300. Overall figures cannot be independently confirmed because Syria keeps tight control on the media.

“Every minute counts,” Shaker said. “People will soon start to collapse from lack of sleep and shortages in food.”

The international struggle over how to end Syria’s crisis moves Friday to Tunisia. The meeting is expected to bring together more than 70 nations to look at ways to assist Assad’s opponents.

On the eve of the Tunisia meeting, the U.N. announced that former secretary-general Kofi Annan would be the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria. His mandate will be to try to end the violence and arrange a political transition.

The United States, Europe and Arab nations worked in London to draft a demand for Assad to impose a cease-fire with 72 hours to allow humanitarian convoys or face new punitive measures, likely to include toughened sanctions.

Officials at the London meeting said some nations have proposed creating protected corridors for humanitarian relief. It was unclear, however, whether it would receive full backing because it would almost certainly require military protection. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions before the so-called “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunis.

Some Arab nations, such as Qatar, have urged consideration of direct military intervention similar to the NATO-led air campaign that helped end Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya. Western powers have so far opposed trying to mobilize another military coalition for Syria.

More workable, officials said, would be a cease-fire such as the one proposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is calling for a daily two-hour break in fighting to provide aid.

“The efforts that we are undertaking with the international community ... are intended to demonstrate the Assad regime’s deepening isolation,” Clinton told reporters. “Our immediate focus is on increasing the pressure. We have got to find ways of getting food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance. Into affected areas. This takes time and it takes a lot of diplomacy.”

If Assad doesn’t comply, “we think that the pressure will continue to build. ... I think that the strategy followed by the Syrians and their allies is one that can’t stand the test of legitimacy ... for any length of time,” she said. “There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration still opposes military intervention but “obviously we’ll have to evaluate this as time goes on.”
In Geneva, a panel of U.N. human rights experts said the United Nations has a secret list of top Syrian officials who could face investigation for crimes against humanity. The U.N. experts indicated that the list goes as high as Assad.

Experts said the list appears mostly part of international pressures on Syria rather than a direct threat. Syria isn’t a member of the International Criminal Court so is outside its jurisdiction. Russia also would likely block any moves in the U.N. Security Council to refer the country to the Hague-based tribunal.

The European Union is expected next week to add seven Syrian government ministers to those already under sanctions that free assets and ban visas, said an EU official in Brussels. 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 oil.

In Amman, Jordan, several dozen Syrians, mainly from Homs, protested at the U.S. Embassy and asked for Western military intervention. “Almighty God, destroy Bashar,” they chanted.

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Syrian city destroyed 'inch by inch' by troops