Syria Calls for Vote on New Constitution as Shelling Continues in Homs

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Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has called for a referendum on a new national constitution, despite the fact there's been no let up in the fighting in the city of Homs. Syrian state TV announced that al-Assad received a draft of the new constitution from a committee that was set up to respond to demands from activists seeking changes. However, any amendment to the constitution are unlikely to appease the opposition at this point, as most of them have come under nearly continuous bombardment for the last two weeks.

It's also hard to see how a vote could even take place in less than two weeks — it's scheduled for February 26 — amid a growing humanitarian crisis in one Syria's largest cities. A key oil pipeline running through Homs exploded on Wednesday setting of a massive fire that continues to burn and send thick black smoke through residential neighborhoods. As usual, state officials blamed armed terrorists for attacking the pipeline, while activists say it was bombed by military jets. Given the near constant state of shelling in Homs the last two weeks it would be difficult to determine exactly how it was hit. The onslaught of tank shells, rockets, and fighter planes have made it nearly impossible even for refugees to escape the city and aid groups have not been allowed in. Troops and security forces have also moved into some suburbs of Damascus, reportedly in attempts to round up soldiers that have defected.

A United Nations official estimates that over 300 people have been killed in Homs in the last ten days, although the U.N. has stopped keeping an official count of death tolls since the country has become too dangerous for monitors to verify the numbers.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.