BEIRUT — Syrian security forces unleashed a barrage of gunfire Wednesday, killing at least 11 people as President Bashar al-Assad’s troops kept up the government’s assault on a nearly six-month-old uprising, activists and witnesses said.
Nine of the dead were in Homs, a hotbed of opposition to Assad’s autocratic government. Two others were shot dead during raids in Sarameen, in northern Syria.
In a step that the opposition says shows the regime is intractable, a planned visit by the Arab League secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, to push Assad to make major concessions to defuse the crisis was postponed at the last minute at the government’s request.
Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Heli told reporters in Egypt that Elaraby will visit Damascus on Saturday. He said the decision was made in a phone call between Elaraby and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
For days, security forces have been pursuing activists and anti-government demonstrators in Homs, part of a crackdown on the most serious challenge to the Assad dynasty, which has ruled for four decades. The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have died in the uprising.
“All through the night, there was shooting. The gunfire didn’t stop,” a resident of the city said by phone Wednesday. “I can’t tell exactly what is going on because it’s dangerous to go out.”
He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, said security forces simultaneously stormed several districts in the old part of the city. Nine people were confirmed dead in shootings in those areas, the organization said.
The London-based Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across the country, said 10 were killed.
Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, has seen some of the largest anti-government protests in Syria over the past months, despite repeated crackdowns.
Mobile telephones, land lines and Internet connections in some parts of Homs were cut off Wednesday. Many people were staying home because roads were blocked by security forces. Others said they were too scared to leave.
Syria has sealed the country off from foreign journalists and most international observers, insisting that foreigners are meddling, making it difficult to independently verify information coming out of the country. The government’s crackdown has led to sharp international criticism and sanctions aimed at isolating the regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil.