Syrian cities endure intense shelling

Activists report severe bombardments in Homs and Deraa as Russia says situation in country is becoming “more alarming”.

Violence is continuing in Syria, with activists reporting government assaults on the southern city of Deraa and Homs in the centre of the country.

At least 52 civilians were killed around the country outside Damascus on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group.

Among them were 20, including nine women and children, who died in heavy, pre-dawn shelling in the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

Six children were among 10 killed by a shell that exploded in a house they took cover in during fierce fighting in the coastal region of Latakia, the group said.

The group’s figures could not be independently confirmed.

Activists in Homs said several neighbourhoods were under intense shelling for the third day in a row on Saturday. They said al-Khaldiyeh, Jouret al-Shayyah, al-Qusour and Old Homs were being bombarded with mortars and rockets.

At least six people were reportedly killed. Military reinforcements were reported to have arrived to the city, including armoured vehicles and dozens of pickups equipped with machine guns. 

Opposition strongholds in the city have been under shelling for many months, but activists said the intensity had increased significantly in recent days.

The nearby town of al-Qusayr was also said to have endured heavy shelling and a large number of buildings and agricultural areas were burning as a result.

Homs province has been the scene of large anti-government protests and has also become a stronghold for the armed opposition.

Meanwhile, the International Committee for the Red Cross released a report stating that at least 1.5 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance in Syria.

Philippe Stoll, spokesperson for the ICRC based in Geneva, told Al Jazeera that it was crucial to get basica humanitarian assistance such as food, water, and medical aid to people in Syria.

When asked about shelling on a daily basis, he responded, “We don’t have first-hand information as such, so we won’t make any conclusions on the situation there, but what we can do is call all parties who are fighting to prevent further civilian casualties.”

Situation ‘more alarming’

In the latest diplomatic development, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said his country would not approve the use of force against the Syrian government at the United Nations.

Lavrov said “the situation is becoming more alarming”, but stressed that there was no alternative to a peace plan mediated by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to stop the violence.

Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught reports from Istanbul

He said Russia was calling for a working group to pressure all parties of the conflict to implement the plan, which calls for a Syrian-led political transition.

Russia, along with China, has vetoed two Security Council resolutions against Assad and has vowed to oppose any military intervention.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition bloc, elected Kurdish activist Abdulbaset Sieda as its new leader, replacing Burhan Ghalioun who resigned from his post amid accusations that he was monopolising power and was out of touch with the opposition on the ground.

‘Yet another academic’

Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said it was unlikely that people in Syria would feel that he represented them any better than Ghalioun.

“He’s yet another of those exiled academics, a philosophy professor who lived outside the country for some 18 years, more than a decade in Sweden,” she said.

“People inside Syria feel that they have had to suffer and pay with blood while the SNC has set in hotels, holding meeting after meeting which hasn’t yielded anything significant to help people.

She said he would also face challenges in terms of internal politics within the council.

“The election of a Kurd, some critics say, will make it look like the SNC is more responsive to Syria’s minorities. But they’ll also tell you he’s only there because he has the backing of the Islamist faction in the SNC which other critics of the council say is the one that actually wields the power and calls the shots behind the scenes.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies