The besieged Syrian city of Homs came under the heaviest bombardment in a month, activists have reported, as the head of the United Nations monitoring mission in the country said the violence in Syria has reached unprecedented levels.
Norwegian Major General Robert Mood told reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday that there must be a ceasefire in order for his teams to resume their work.
|Rare insights into life in Homs under daily shelling
"The escalation of violence, allow me to say, to an unprecedented level, obstructed our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue," he said.
His comments came amid reports that Homs’ neighbourhoods of Jouret al-Shayyah, al-Khalidiyeh and Karam Shamsham were being shelled with tank fire, mortars and rockets.
Hadi al-Abdallah, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera that "rockets were raining on Homs" and that four people have been reported dead since the morning.
“This is the 29th day since Homs is under siege. Today is the worst, however. Scores have been injured and black smoke is covering the sky of Homs,” he said.
Homs province has been the scene of large anti-government protests and several of its neighbourhoods have become a stronghold for the armed opposition.
Pictures broadcast live by activists purported to show the neighbourhood of Jouret al-Shayyah under attack. Loud explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard on the broadcast.
Thursday's violence in Homs came a day after a team of UN observers reportedly attempted to visit the province.
About 300 UN monitors were sent to Syria to provide an unbiased look at the violence, but they have been confined to their hotels since June 15 because of the bloodshed.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
More than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, according to activists.
The late reports of violence came as president of Cyprus said the island nation has drawn up contingency plans to receive a possible influx of evacuees from Syria if necessary.
Dimitris Christofias said his country is ready to act as an evacuee way station as it did in 2006, when it offered shelter and food to tens of thousands of people who fled Lebanon during a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah.
More than 200,000 Syrians have so far fled the country overland, seeking refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.