Syria's regime has said it's ready to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Homs, but rebels were obstructing the attempts. Anti-regime activists said government forces had civilians surrounded and were shelling.
The Syrian foreign ministry said on Tuesday it was prepared to evacuate civilians from Homs and had contacted the UN mission and local authorities to do so, but blamed rebel groups for preventing efforts by using the residents as human shields.
"[The] efforts of the UN monitors' mission failed in achieving this goal because of the armed terrorist groups' obstructions," the ministry said in a statement quoted by state-run news agency SANA. The government regularly refers to armed rebel groups as terrorists.
Damascus was apparently responding to a call issued by the head of the UN observer mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, for the government and the opposition to allow "women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones."
UN rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday also demanded the government stop bombing populated areas, telling the UN Human Rights Council "such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes."
Activists said on Saturday that around 1,000 civilians were trapped in Homs and unable to escape fire from government forces that had them surrounded. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shelling of Homs was continuing intermittently on Tuesday.
The 300-member UN monitoring team suspended its activities in Syria on Saturday due to escalating bloodshed but said they hoped to remain in Damascus.
Mission head Mood was due to brief the Security Council later on Tuesday.
ncy/pfd (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)