UK & World News
Annan: 'Grave Concerns' About Syrian Attacks
International mediator Kofi Annan has expressed alarm over the increasing violence in Syria, as government troops target rebel strongholds.
As well as the shelling of Homs districts, there are also reports of the use of mortar bombs, helicopters and tanks near the coast, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said.
Mr Annan is "gravely concerned by the latest reports of violence coming out of Syria and the escalation of fighting by both government and opposition forces," he said.
"There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns."
He added that Mr Annan "demands that the parties take all steps to ensure that civilians are not harmed, and further demands that entry of the UN Military Observers be allowed to the town of Al Haffa immediately."
Two months ago, the UN-Arab League envoy drew up a ceasefire for the country, but it has not been implemented and fighting across the country has violated it daily.
Footage which appears to show the renewed shelling in Homs cannot be independently verified, but Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, who was in the city, said it "makes sense".
Speaking from Homs, he said he could hear what he thought to be mortar rounds exploding about every two minutes, along with occasional gunfire.
"We don't know exactly where that video is from, but that is the type of situation that I'm looking at," he said.
He added that the districts being attacked are "absolute hell".
"The rest of it is tense, difficult and half-empty because people have fled," he said.
"It's clearly a terrible situation for the people living here - especially those who are on the receiving end of these mortar rounds," he added.
There was also violence in the central province of Hama, activists claimed, as regime troops targeted towns and villages with strong anti-regime sentiment.
"Regime forces have entered Shaghoureit and Qastoun villages in Hama," said one activist, who identified himself as Abu Ghazi al Hamwi.
"We are worried about how much violence there might be there right now, because we have heard that regime forces are using residents as human shields."
Violence in the uprising against President Bashar al Assad's regime continues despite the presence of 300 UN observers in the country.
According to their figures, soldiers and militias loyal to Assad have killed at least 10,000 people since the fighting began.
The new leader of Syria's main opposition group has called for mass defections from a regime he described as "on its last legs".
At his first news conference since taking over the reins, Syrian National Council's (SNC) Abdel Basset Sayda also reached out to minority groups in Syria, promising them a full say in the country's future.
"We are entering a sensitive phase," he said, "the regime is on its last legs."
"The multiplying massacres and shellings show that it is struggling.
"We call upon all officials in the regime and in the institutions to defect from the regime.
"We would like to reassure all sects and groups, especially Alawites and Christians, that the future of Syria will be for all of us."
The opposition hopes the 55-year old, who is not a member of any political party, will be able to reconcile the SNC's rival factions and will broaden its appeal among Syria's different ethnic and religious groups.
But Marshall said he did not think the appointment would affect the response from the international community to the ongoing situation.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) also called for defections, urging officials from Assad's military to jump ship.
"We call on Syrians to launch a general strike leading to mass civil disobedience," Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, from the FSA, said.
He urged officers and men in Syria's regular army "whose hands are not tainted with blood to join the fighters".
The calls follow a warning by Israel's deputy military chief that Syria has the largest chemical weapons stocks in the world - and has missiles and rockets that could reach any point in Israel.
Major General Yair Naveh said that, given the chance, Syria would "treat us the same way it treats its own people".
Israel has been watching the carnage in its neighbouring country with increasing concern.
The two countries have fought major wars in the past, and Syria supports violent anti-Israel groups.
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