Tanks pushed into a rebel stronghold in the battered city of Homs yesterday and UN investigators accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of crimes against humanity.
Rockets, shells and mortar rounds rained on the Baba Amro district, where armed insurgents are holed up with terrified civilians for the 20th day in a row, activists said. The Sunni Muslim quarters of Inshaat and Khalidiya also came under fire.
Homs-based activist Abu Imad said tanks had entered the Jobar area in the south of Baba Amro.
“Explosions are shaking the whole of Homs. God have mercy,” Abdallah al-Hadi said from the city, where more than 80 people, including two Western journalists and Syrian opposition citizen journalist Rami al-Sayed, were reported killed on Wednesday.
Western diplomats said it had not yet been possible to extract the bodies of Marie Colvin, an American working for Britain’s Sunday Times, and French freelance photographer Remi Ochlik.
Three journalists wounded in the same attack — British photographer Paul Conroy, French reporter Edith Bouvier and Paris-based photographer William Daniels — were also awaiting evacuation from the wrecked Baba Amro neighborhood.
The Syrian Information Ministry said it “rejects accusations that Syria is responsible for the deaths of journalists who infiltrated into the country on their own responsibility, without the authorities knowing about their entry or location.”
The plight of Homs and other embattled towns will dominate “Friends of Syria” talks in Tunis today involving the US, European and Arab countries, Turkey and other nations demanding that al-Assad halt the bloodshed and relinquish power.
Russia, which along with China has vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, has said it would not attend.
US officials said the Friends of Syria group would challenge al-Assad to provide humanitarian access within days to civilians embroiled in the intensifying conflict.
The army is blocking medical supplies to parts of Homs and electricity is cut off 15 hours a day, activists say. Hospitals, schools, shops and government offices are closed.
UN investigators said Syrian forces had shot dead unarmed women and children, shelled residential areas and tortured wounded protesters in hospital under orders issued at the “highest levels” of the army and government.
In their report to the UN Human Rights Council, they called for the perpetrators of such crimes against humanity to face prosecution, adding that they had drawn up a confidential list of names of commanders and officials alleged to be responsible.
The commission, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, found that Free Syrian Army rebels had also committed abuses, including killings and abductions, “although not comparable in scale.”
Syrian authorities could not be immediately reached for comment on the commission’s latest findings.