Middle East

Syria conflict: 'Shelling intensifies' in Homs

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network on June 16, 2012 allegedly shows smoke rising from a mosque following shelling by government forces on the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood of the restive central city of Homs
Image caption Activists say that the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood of Homs has been among the worst hit

The central Syrian city of Homs has come under renewed intense bombardment from government forces, activists say.

Homs has reportedly come under heavy attack in recent days and some have warned that civilians are trapped without access to essential supplies.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said over 1,000 families in Homs need to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, activists have criticised the UN observer mission in Syria for deciding to suspend its activities.

The Observatory said at least one person had died in Sunday's violence in Homs's Khalidiyeh district, and that 10 other deaths had been reported elsewhere in the country.

"Eighty-five per cent of Homs is under attack", Abu Imad, an activist in Homs, told the BBC.

"I'm afraid that there are no safe places left in Homs. We will have to build a new city because there is nothing left," he added.

Videos uploaded to the internet by activists in the city's al-Bayada and Ghouta districts appeared to show heavy damage to buildings and vehicles from bombardment in recent days.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has warned of a looming massacre in Homs which it says is besieged by 30,000 troops and pro-regime militiamen.

The city has been a focal point of opposition activity. The district of Baba Amr suffered a month-long siege and weeks of shelling before being regained by the government in February.

'Absence of vision'

On Saturday, Norwegian Gen Robert Mood, the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), said UN observers would cease operations because of the escalating violence.

Image caption Gen Mood said increasing levels of violence had forced observers to cease operations

The mission's 298 military observers and 112 civilian staff were sent to Syria to verify the implementation of a peace plan devised by UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, which included a ceasefire.

Gen Mood said the mission remained committed to ending the violence and that the suspension would be "reviewed on a daily basis".

However, although activist groups on the ground had criticised the UN monitors for being passive observers, they are yet more critical of the abrupt suspension of even that role, reports the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

The SNC said the move denied the Syrian people what little protection they had.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists inside Syria, was also critical.

"In the absence of any vision to push for an improvement in the situation, the current decision allows for more bloodshed and enables the regime to buy more time under international cover," the LCC said in a statement .

The SNC called on the UN Security Council to move swiftly to put the Annan plan into Chapter Seven, meaning that its implementation could be enforced.

The UN Security Council's five permanent members will consider the next steps for the observer mission when Gen Mood briefs them on the situation in Syria on Tuesday.

The Syrian government has repeated its full support for the Annan plan, and blamed "terrorists" and their outside backers for escalating the violence and derailing the plan, our correspondent says.

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