Syrian security forces shot dead 17 people in the protest hub of Homs today, while withdrawing from the city of Hama, as Washington turned up the heat on embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
Yesterday, a defiant Assad had pledged to pursue a relentless battle against "terrorist groups," seemingly oblivious to the mounting international pressure against his regime.
Brazil, India and South Africa have all stepped into the diplomatic fray, dispatching envoys to Damascus to seek a solution to the crisis and end the bloody crackdown that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since mid-March.
Security forces "fired indiscriminately on residents of the Baba Amro neighbourhood, killing 11 people," one activist told AFP in Nicosia by telephone from the central city. The toll was later raised to 17, with at least another 20 wounded.
"Some bodies are lying in the sun and people cannot remove them because of the shooting," one activist said. Meanwhile, an AFP correspondent on a government-sponsored tour said dozens of military vehicles crammed with soldiers streamed out of Hama to which residents were trickling back.
"The army units have gone back to their barracks after having accomplished their mission, and residents, happy to be rid of the armed gangs who tried to sow discord among the population, have returned home," a high-ranking officer said. That was confirmed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who sent his ambassador to Hama to witness the pullout.