UN reports Syrian helicopter fire on rebel strongholds
United Nations monitors said Syrian helicopters fired on rebel strongholds north of Homs today and said many women and children were reported trapped in the city, calling for "immediate and unfettered access" to the conflict zones.
International mediator Kofi Annan also expressed grave concern about violence in Homs and in Haffeh, a mainly Sunni Muslim town near the Mediterranean coast, where the US State Department said it feared a "potential massacre".
The UN observers, tasked with monitoring Mr Annan's April ceasefire deal which failed to stem the violence in Syria, have instead been cataloguing mass killings, bombings and clashes in which many hundreds of Syrians have died.
The outside world, divided in its approach towards President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on a 15-month-old uprising, has been unable to halt the violence despite broad international support for Mr Annan's tattered peace plan.
"UN observers reported heavy fighting in Rastan and Talbiseh, north of (Homs), with artillery and mortar shelling, as well as firing from helicopters, machine guns and smaller arms," UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said in a statement.
It was the first time the UN monitors have verified repeated allegations by activists that Mr Assad’s forces have fired from helicopters in the military crackdown on rebels.
The observers "also received reports of a large number of civilians, including women and children trapped inside (Homs) and are trying to mediate their evacuation," Ms Ghosheh said.
UN observers reported that Free Syrian Army rebels captured army soldiers, she added, calling on "all sides to stop the killing and human rights abuses to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international law”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 63 civilians were killed across Syria on Monday, nearly half of them in the northern province of Idlib. Twenty-one soldiers and security forces were killed, most of them in rebel bomb attacks, it said.
Syria's state news agency reported military funerals on Monday for 26 people "targeted by armed terrorist groups as they carried out their national duty".
A spokesman for Mr Annan said he was gravely concerned by the latest reports of violence and "the escalation of fighting by both government and opposition forces".
Mr Annan expressed particular concern at recent shelling in Homs, where activists said yesterday government forces killed 35 people in one of the biggest bombardments since his ceasefire deal was supposed to come into effect on April 12th.
"[Mr Annan] is particularly worried about the recent shelling in Homs as well as reports of the use of mortars, helicopters and tanks in the town of Haffeh," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement.