Weather Gives Syrians a Reprieve, Britain Closes Its Damascus Embassy

The British foreign secretary announced today that the UK has closed its embassy in Syria and has sent home its entire diplomatic staff.

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The British foreign secretary announced today that the UK has closed its embassy in Syria and has sent home its entire diplomatic staff. The embassy had already been reduced to a bare-bones group of about 10 people thanks to the rising violence in the capital, but secretary William Hague said the security situation had become to risky to continue. On the diplomatic front, efforts to get Syria's allies to help with an intervention have gone nowhere. The United Nations' Human Right Council has voted to condemn al-Assad and his government today, though their resoultion contains no enforcement provisions and China and Russia continue voted against it, as they have other efforts to stop the fighting.

Meanwhile, the battle continues in Homs, where CNN's Nic Robertsen reports that snowfall has temporarily slowed the advance of government troops looking to surround and crush the main group of activists in the Baba Amr neighborhood. That area of the city has been the main target of shelling over the last month, as opposition leaders and journalists trying to report from the city  have been completely cut off from the rest of the country. Many parts of Homs have been without electricity for much of the last week and fuel and water supplies are running out. Some outside observers feared the worst after all communication with the area was lost for several hours on Wednesday, but messages have started to emerge once again.

Jacques Beres, a founder of Doctors Without Borders, returned from Homs after 12 days working in a makeshift hospital, telling the BBC that "I can't really compare Homs to any other war zone I have worked in." Beres says he operated on about 90 people, as everyone is too afraid of going to a regular hospital, both because it's too dangerous to travel and once there they would become easy targets for soldiers. Residents have been forced to bury the dead in their gardens at night, or sneak the bodies out of the town to buried in the countryside.

Opposition forces have been fearing an all-out assault on Baba Amr from the hated Fourth Division (an army unit controlled by Bashar al-Assad's brother), as tanks have moved closer and checkpoints have been withdrawn to make way for more intense shelling. However, one activist told The New York Times that he believes the goal is not to invade the neighborhood; it's to wipe it off the map.

"I don’t think they want to enter it anyway; they want to destroy it completely by shelling it from adjacent villages and neighborhoods.”

Members of the Free Syrian Army, which is made up of mainly of Army deserters, are attempting to unify the numerous scattered and disorganized fighters and pledged to launch more attacks elsewhere in the country, in the of hopes of taking the pressure of Homs.

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