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Why Assad Concentrates On Hums.

According to opposition estimates which could not be independently verified, the Assad forces' escalating bombardment of Hums (Syria's third largest city) claimed over 600 lives on Feb. 1-11, including 155 women and 90 children. The Hums province, Syria's largest, has a unique position as it separates the country's north from the southern half and is the most important belt of Sunni Arab militants. Control over Hums is crucial for the safety of the Alawite region. SNC strategists say Assad's ultimate goal of creating an Alawite state, in the event of his central regime falling, will be thwarted by Sunni Arab control over Hums - which would make it easier for the provinces of Hama and Idleb to surround and then subdue such a state. These regions will separate Syria's Alawite minority from the much larger Alawite community in Turkey's Altai - a south-western province bordering with Idleb. Hums is Syria's main industrial centre including its refineries.

This is why the battles for Hums will be particularly bloody in the coming weeks and/or months. Assad forces trying to control Hums are backed by heavy artillery, tanks, helicopters and fighter jets. To the SNC, however, Hums has become the capital of the revolution. SNA leaders on Feb. 12 were quoted as saying the Hums massacres will soon over-take those of the Feb. 2-3, 1982 carnage in Hama where up to 40,000 Sunnis were killed by Assad's father, Gen Hafez al-Assad who took power in a 1970 coup d'etat and died in June 2000 - leaving the presidency to his son Bashar. The Hums province has a population of over 2m. About 1m live in Hums city, where Alawites reside as well.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has condemned "the Syrian government's willful assault on the city of Hums, and its use of artillery and other heavy weaponry in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in the city". She says it is "extremely urgent for the international community to cut through the politics and take effective action to protect the civilian population".

In addition to hitting Syria's central bank and commercial flights, new EU penalties would include a ban on sales of phosphate, one of its chief exports to Europe, and precious metals like gold. The FT on Feb. 9 quoted a "senior EU official" as saying: "everyone is ready to move along with increased sanctions" to be adopted at the bloc's next meeting of foreign ministers on Feb. 27.

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Title Annotation:Bashar al-Assad on Hums, Syria
Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Feb 13, 2012
Words:410
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