Syrian troops intensified shelling of rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs on Sunday, according to activists who said humanitarian conditions in the city are growing dire and pressed for evacuation of 1,000 endangered families and dozens of wounded who cannot get adequate medical care.
Homs has been under siege for more than a week, part of a major escalation of violence around the country that forced the 300-strong U.N. observer force in Syria to halt its patrols.
"The humanitarian situation in Homs is very difficult," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "It is very clear that the army wants to retake Homs."
The Observatory asked the U.N. on Saturday to intervene in Homs to evacuate hundreds of men, women and children whose lives are in danger. It also said dozens of wounded people in rebel-controlled areas of the central city cannot get medicine or doctors to treat them.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the chief of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, said Saturday that intensifying clashes over the past 10 days were "posing significant risks" to the unarmed observers who were spread out across the country and hampering their efforts. The decision came after weeks of escalating attacks, including reports of several mass killings that left dozens dead.
The observers were the only working part of a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan. The international community saw that plan as its only hope to stop the bloodshed.
It called for the foreign monitors to check compliance with a cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect April 12 but never took hold. They have become the most independent witnesses to the carnage on both sides as government and rebel forces ignored the truce.
The statement calling off observer patrols reinforced fears that Syria is sliding ever closer to civil war 15 months after the rebellion to oust President Bashar Assad began. Opposition groups say more than 14,000 civilians and rebels have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
The Observatory says more than 3,400 soldiers and militiamen loyal to the government have also been killed.
Regime forces have been waging a fierce offensive through towns and villages nationwide, trying to root out rebels by shelling urban areas with tanks and attacking from helicopters. Rebels also have attacked Syrian forces, mostly trying to burn tanks.
Sunday, the Observatory said 27 civilians and rebel fighters were killed as well as more than a dozen soldiers around the country. The Local Coordination Committee said over 50 people were killed -- the group does not count soldiers' deaths. Both groups said most people were killed in shelling in Homs province and in towns around Damascus.