Activists: Syrian troops pound Homs neighborhoods

BASSEM MROUE Associated Press Published:

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian troops shelled neighborhoods in the restive city of Homs on Monday, striking a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas in an assault that killed at least 12 people, activists said.

The bloodshed came one day after President Bashar Assad's government vowed to continue its crackdown on a nearly 11-month-old uprising that has become one of the deadliest of the Arab Spring. The activist reports could not be independently confirmed.

Homs -- which many refer to as "the capital of the Syrian revolution -- has become a flashpoint of the uprising against Assad. Several neighborhoods in the city, such as Baba Amr, are under the control of rebel army defectors.

On Saturday, Syrian forces killed up to 200 people in Homs -- the highest death toll reported for a single day in the uprising -- according to several rights groups.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said the latest bombardment Monday hit a makeshift clinic in the tense neighborhood of Baba Amr, causing casualties. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12 people were killed across the city.

Omar Shaker, an activist in Baba Amr, said a paramedic was wounded in the shelling of the clinic and two people who were standing outside died instantly. He added that many volunteers at the hospital were wounded as well as people receiving treatment.

"As of 6:30 this morning the shelling intensified with a rate of one shell every two minutes," the man said.

Syria's state-run TV denied government forces were besieging the area, saying activists in the city were setting tires on fire to make it appear as if there was a bombardment.

Syria has banned independent reporting and largely sealed off trouble spots, making it difficult to confirm accounts from either side.

Activists say they fear that the Saturday decision by Russia and China to block a U.N Security Council resolution on Syria will embolden Assad's regime. Some fear that Syria's turmoil will move into even a more dangerous new phase that could degenerate into outright civil war.

On Sunday, the commander of rebel soldiers said force was now the only way to oust Assad, while the regime vowed to press its military crackdown to bring back stability to the country.

"We did not sleep all night," Majd Amer, another activist in Homs, said by telephone. Explosions could be heard in the background. "The regime is committing organized crimes."

Amer said shelling of his neighborhood of Khaldiyeh started at 3 a.m., and most residents living on high floors either fled to shelters or to lower floors. He said electricity was also cut.

Homs has been an epicenter of Syria's uprising. Monday's violence came two days after another heavy bombardment of the city.

Activists said more than 200 people died in a single day. The regime denied any bombardment, and there was no way to independently confirm the toll.

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Bassem Mroue can be reached on twitter at http://twitter.com/bmroue