DAMASCUS, (AFP) — Syrian forces on Tuesday blitzed the flashpoint city of Homs and opened fire to disperse daring protesters in the capital, monitors said, as the Red Cross sought ways to deliver aid to afflicted areas.
Activists had urged authorities to allow women and children to flee the besieged neighbourhood of Baba Amr in the restive central city, which residents say has been assaulted by regime forces for 18 straight days.
The plea came on Monday as troop reinforcements were sent to the outskirts of Homs, with activists fearing they were preparing to storm its defiant neighbourhoods.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven people, including a child, died in “intensive shelling” that targeted Baba Amr on Tuesday, while adding that the Khaldiyeh and Karm al-Zaytoun sectors were also blasted.
The Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group, said heavy shelling for two hours early Tuesday of Khaldiyeh and Karm al-Zaytoun later gave way to more sporadic attacks.
Attacks in the battered city claimed 12 of the 24 people killed — 19 civilians and five soldiers — across the country on Monday, according to reports by the Observatory and state media.
The Observatory also reported that Syrian security forces opened fire overnight to disperse a demonstration in Damascus, as daring protests spread in the stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Security forces opened fire at demonstrators who took to the streets in the capital’s Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighbourhood, it said.
Protesters during the night also blocked the roads leading to Baramkeh Square in the centre of the capital, according to Mohammed Shami, a spokesman for activists in Damascus province.
He said demonstrators used “burning materials” to shut the roads, triggering a security alert that saw “heavily armed forces” deployed in the area in few minutes.
The demonstrators were acting as part of a “campaign of civil disobedience in Damascus in support of Homs and afflicted Syrian cities,” Shami said in a statement.
The Red Cross said Monday it was in talks with the Syrian authorities and rebels to halt the violence so that it can deliver aid.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross is exploring several possibilities for delivering urgently needed humanitarian aid,” said ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi on Monday.
“These include the cessation of fighting in the most affected areas to facilitate swift Syrian Arab Red Crescent and ICRC access to the people in need,” he said.
And although top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said over the weekend that it was “premature” to arm the country’s opposition movement, Republican US Senator John McCain called to provide the rebels with weapons.
“We have seen in Libya, and we have seen in previous conflicts there are ways to get weapons to people so they can defend themselves,” McCain said in Cairo.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Mexico, said for her part that Syria was increasingly under pressure.
She said that a Friends of Syria meeting, due this week in Tunisia, will “demonstrate that Assad’s regime is increasingly isolated and that the brave Syrian people need our support and solidarity.”
The meeting “will send a clear message to Russia, China and others who are still unsure about how to handle the increasing violence but are up until now, unfortunately, making the wrong choices,” she said.
Russia announced Tuesday that it will not take part in the meeting in Tunisia because it was being convened “for the purpose of supporting one side against another in an internal conflict,” according to a foreign ministry statement.
Iranian warships, which Iran’s state media said had docked in the Mediterranean port of Tartus to help “train the Syrian navy”, were meanwhile Tuesday crossing the Suez Canal on their way back to Iran, a canal authorities source told AFP.
Iran is a key ally of Assad, and accuses Israel and the West of seeking to destabilise Syria.
Embattled Assad on Monday again accused foreign parties of funding and arming rebels to destabilise his country.