The Red Cross said on Monday it was in talks with the Syrian authorities and rebels to halt the violence so it can deliver aid amid calls to allow women and children out of the besieged city of Homs.
President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, again accused foreigners of funding and arming “terrorist groups” with the aim of destabilizing his unrest-hit country, as Iranian warships docked at the port of Tartus in a show of force.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross is exploring several possibilities for delivering urgently needed humanitarian aid,” said ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi.
“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.”
Despite a weekend appeal by a visiting Chinese envoy for all sides to stop the violence, monitors said regime forces targeted the central city of Homs for a 17th straight day.
Attacks on Homs killed nine out of the 16 people killed across Syria on Monday, according to reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media.
Shelling of Baba Amr, the main rebel stronghold in Homs, killed five civilians, while another four died, including three children of the same family, when rockets hit Al-Malaab district, said the Britain-based Observatory.
The official SANA news agency said a lieutenant colonel and a sergeant were killed in a clash between border guards and an “armed terrorist group” in Athraya, central Hama province.
Activists and state media reported at least 14 people killed on Sunday, adding to the more than 6,000 people activists say have died in the Assad regime’s 11-month crackdown on dissent.
“Infantry troops arrived yesterday (Sunday) in Homs,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory, told AFP by telephone.
A Homs-based activist voiced fears of an imminent attack on Baba Amr, speaking of “unprecedented military reinforcements coming from Damascus.”
“News has been leaked to us from army officers about a bloody attack that will burn everything in Baba Amr,” Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution said on Sunday.
A day after saying Baba Amr was being hit by up to five rockets a minute, Abdullah on Monday demanded safe passage to allow women and children to leave the district.
“We want women and children to be allowed to leave,” he told AFP, adding that “people were suffering from the weather while their conditions are miserable.”
Abdel Rahman was cautious about the timing of the expected assault on Homs.
“We do not know when the attack might happen,” he said.
Assad, meeting visiting Russian parliamentarians, thanked Russia for its support, saying Syria was being “targeted by armed terrorist groups receiving funding and arms from foreign parties, aiming to destabilize” it, state media said.
Arming the opposition
Meanwhile top Republican U.S. Senator John McCain called for Syria’s opposition to be given weapons to help “defend themselves” against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, while excluding direct U.S. aid.
“I’m not calling for the direct supply of weapons by the United States of America,” he told a news conference in Cairo.
“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.”
“There are ways to get weapons into Syria. It is time we gave the (opposition) the wherewithal to fight back and stop the slaughter,” he said, while underlining that Iran and Russia were supplying military aid to the Syrian regime.
McCain had said earlier this month that diplomacy had been nearly exhausted and that the time had come to consider arming the outgunned Syrian opposition.
The White House and U.S State Department poured cold water on the idea, which has also been rejected by other global powers, notably veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members Russia and China, despite the ongoing violence.