February 4, 2012 / 2:30 AM / 8 years ago

Death toll hits 217 in shelling of Syria's Homs-group

BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 217 people were killed in shelling by Syrian forces in the city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights said on Saturday.

“The death toll is now at least 217 people killed in Homs, 138 of them killed in the Khalidiya district,” Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based group, told Reuters, citing witnesses.

Residents said Syrian forces began shelling the Khalidiya neighborhood at around 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday using artillery and mortars. They said at least 36 houses were completely destroyed with families inside.

“We were sitting inside our house when we started hearing the shelling. We felt the bombardment was falling on our heads,” said Waleed a resident of Khalidiya.

It was not immediately clear what had prompted Syrian forces to launch such an intense bombardment at a time when diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are discussing a draft resolution on an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

Homs is a stronghold of opponents calling for Assad to quit, and has become the heart of a growing insurgency against Assad forces.

One activist said residents were using primitive tools to rescue the people. They feared many people were buried under the rubble.

“We are not getting any help, there are no ambulances or anything. We are removing the people with our own hands,” he said, adding there were only two field hospitals treating the wounded. Each one had a capacity to deal with 30 people, but he estimated the total number of wounded at 500.

“We have dug out at least 100 bodies so far, they are placed in the two mosques.”

Activists said hundreds of people in the cities of Hama and Idlib took to the streets to show solidarity with the Homs victims.

Reporting by Mariam Karouny Editing by Jon Boyle

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