The Syrian military appears to be preparing a ground assault on the city of Homs, as diplomatic efforts to secure humanitarian access to the city continue.
Syrian troops backed by tanks were reportedly amassing outside of Homs on Wednesday, as activists feared the action could be part of a final push by the government to take back control of the rebellious city.
Government forces have been shelling Homs for 26 days now, with particular focus on the neighborhood of Baba Amr. An unnamed Syrian official told the AP news agency Wednesday that the city would be "cleaned" within hours.
"The army is trying to go in with infantry from the direction of al-Bassel football field and fierce confrontations with automatic rifles and heavy machineguns are taking place there," activist Mohammad al-Homsi told the Reuters news agency from Homs.
Homs has been completely isolated by the assault, activists with the Free Syrian Army said, and government forces recently blew up an underground aqueduct that had been used to smuggle in desperately needed supplies from outside.
The attack on Homs comes as Western countries worked on a new UN Security Council resolution that would demand humanitarian access to civilians in Syria. Diplomats said they were being careful to word the draft in such a way as to avoid a third veto on a Syrian resolution from Russia and China, both Damascus allies.
"I solemnly appeal to Russia and China that they do not block this new resolution at the Security Council," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
China has said that it now plans to back international aid efforts.
On Tuesday the UN raised its death toll for the uprising in Syria to 7,500, up 2,000 from just two months prior. Syrian activist organizations put the number at more than 8,000, the vast majority civilians.
acb/sad (AFP, AP)