Air raids on Syria's Homs kill woman, children
Air raids on Homs killed at least three civilians Sunday, monitors said, as Syrian government forces pressed a new bid to retake rebel-held parts of the city dubbed the "capital of the revolution".
Homs, the third largest city in the war-torn country, was one of the first to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime more than two years ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in addition to the three civilians, at least 24 members of the regime forces had also been killed in the fighting in Homs that began on Saturday.
"Syrian warplanes carried out air strikes on the Old City of Homs... destroying a house and causing three deaths," said the Observatory.
"Regime forces also carried out heavy shelling of the districts of Khaldiyeh and the Old City, and the sound of explosions could be heard," added the Britain-based organisation.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said a woman and two children were killed in the strikes on the Old City, and that dozens of people had been injured since the assault began.
"The army is continuing its attempt to enter Khaldiyeh, but it hasn't succeeded so far," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the Syrian regime to cease its "brutal" assault.
"The Assad regime is using every weapon at its disposal against its own people," he said in a statement.
"It is clear that Assad is not interested in peace for Syria but rather is prepared to kill tens of thousands of innocent people and deprive millions more of humanitarian aid rather than work for a resolution of this conflict which has already killed too many.
"I call upon the Assad regime to cease its brutal assault on Homs and to allow full humanitarian access to the country. The violence must end and those responsible must be held to account."
The Observatory called the bombardment of the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bab Hud, Hamidiyeh and Bustan al-Diwan "unprecedented".
A security source in Damascus said on Saturday regime forces wanted to "cleanse those neighbourhoods of Homs that are in the hands of armed terrorists, particularly Khaldiyeh, Hamidiyeh and the Old City".
Khaldiyeh and the Old City have been under siege by the army for around a year.
Syria's Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said the army had "made qualitative new advances in the city of Homs amid fierce clashes with armed militias in Khaldiyeh and Bab Hud".
And state news agency SANA cited a military source as saying "a number of terrorists were eliminated and their weapons and ammunition destroyed in Khaldiyeh".
The operation prompted the opposition National Coalition to appeal late on Saturday for "battalions of the Free Syrian Army to come to the aid of Homs with all means possible".
The group also called on international backers of the uprising to establish a no-fly zone and launch air strikes against regime military bases.
Elsewhere, the Observatory said at least six people were killed when rebels in Aleppo province shot down a helicopter.
SANA confirmed a government helicopter was "targeted by terrorists over the town of Nabl".
The state news agency said education officials carrying official examination papers had been on board.
"The targeting led to the helicopter crashing and the death of seven officials and the helicopter crew," the agency said, without specifying the number killed.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, quoted by state television, called the attack "cowardly terrorist act against... education workers seeking to spread education and knowledge".
© 2013 AFP