- NEW: At least 47 people are killed Wednesday, including three families, opposition group says
- With arms help and a no-fly zone, “we can defeat Assad dogs,” resident says
- Sen. John McCain says the United States should consider arming the Syrian opposition
- Report: Russia’s foreign minister says Syria’s president assured his commitment to end violence
(CNN) — Not long after Russia’s foreign minister touted the Syrian president’s “commitment” to ending violence, at least 47 people were killed in bloodshed Wednesday, an opposition activist group said.
Government forces stormed three homes in a Homs neighborhood, killing three “unarmed” families — a total of 20 people, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
But one opposition activist Omar Shakir put the death toll at 54 after visiting and calling field hospitals in three neighborhoods in Homs.
“There is nonstop shelling,” said Shakir, a Homs resident.
He said those wounded by government troops must resort to the ill-equipped, makeshift clinics because rockets struck one of two hospitals; the other was taken over by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Eleven months into a government-led slaughter of dissidents, the situation has gone from unbearable to unimaginable.
“We cannot count the dead anymore. They want to finish us,” said Mohammed Salih, a Homs resident. He described loud explosions from shelling that started at 5 a.m.
Even at home, no one is safe.
Government troops are moving from house to house by breaking through walls rather than venturing back on the street, where they might face the opposition Free Syrian Army, said an activist identified only as “Danny” for safety reasons. The Free Syrian Army includes defected soldiers from government forces.
“All we need from the international community is to impose a no-fly zone and to assist the FSA (Free Syrian Army) with better weapons, and we can defeat Assad dogs,” Shakir said.
But efforts to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution against the Syrian regime have repeatedly failed due to vetoes by Russia and China.
U.S. officials made clear Tuesday that the United States has lost patience with al-Assad, who rose to power in 2000 following his father’s three-decade rule.
“Your days are numbered,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said, referring to al-Assad. “It is time and past time for you to transfer power responsibly and peacefully.”
Her remarks came as two senior administration officials told CNN that while the United States remains focused on exerting nonmilitary pressure on Damascus, the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command have begun a preliminary internal review of U.S. military capabilities in order to prepare options in the event that U.S. President Barack Obama calls for them.
Still, one of the officials said, “This remains a campaign to apply economic and diplomatic pressure.” Neither official was willing to be identified because neither is authorized to talk to the media.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, a leading Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that the United States “should start considering all options, including arming the opposition. The bloodletting has got to stop.”
But White House press secretary Jay Carney said the United States has no immediate plans to arm the opposition.
“We are not considering that step right now,” he told reporters. “We are exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians. And we are working with our partners, again, to ratchet up the pressure, ratchet up the isolation on Assad and his regime.”
Carney added that U.S. officials were “seeing a lot of indications of a lack of control over the country by the regime, of interest by senior officials within the military and the government in separating themselves from the regime.”
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did not rule out the possibility of arming the opposition. “We never take anything off the table,” she told reporters.
“However, as the president himself made absolutely clear and as the secretary has continued to say, we don’t think more arms into Syria is the answer. We think the answer is to get to a national democratic dialogue, for the violence to stop, for the regime’s tanks to come out of the cities, and then for monitors to be able to go back in.”
While activists describe bodies mounting in the streets, unable to be retrieved because of snipers perched above, a group of Arab nations announced they are calling home their ambassadors from the besieged country. Among them was Bahrain, which last year had its own robust crackdown on dissidents.
The Gulf Cooperation Council said it made the decision “with deep sorrow and anger” at the increased pace of killings in Syria “that did not spare a child, old man, or woman — heinous acts that can be described as a collective massacre against the defenseless Syrian people without any mercy or pity, and without considering any rights or feelings of humanity or morality.”
The United Nations’ Children’s Fund said there have been “deaths and injuries of hundreds of children.”
“There are reports of children being arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sexually abused while in detention,” the organization said in a statement.
The six Gulf Cooperation Council nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait — also expelled Syria’s ambassadors, saying their presence became useless after the Syrian regime rejected all attempts and thwarted all Arab efforts “to resolve this crisis and stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people.”
But in a visit to Damascus on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said al-Assad “affirmed his commitment” to an Arab League plan “of putting an end to violence regardless of its source,” Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported.
For months, the Syrian regime has blamed violence in the country on “armed terrorist groups.”
U.N. officials estimate 6,000 people have died since protests began nearly a year ago. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists that organizes and documents protests, said at least 7,339 people have been killed.
CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because the government has restricted journalists’ access to the country.
CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali, Holly Yan, Arwa Damon, Barbara Starr and Elise Labott contributed to this report.