Syrian rights activists say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have intensified an assault on the central opposition stronghold of Homs, as U.N. diplomats drafted a General Assembly resolution to denounce human rights violations by the Assad government.
The activists say Homs on Tuesday suffered one of the strongest shelling attacks since pro-Assad forces besieging the city began daily bombardments on February 4. They say government attacks killed at least six people in Homs and at least six others elsewhere in the country, including nearby Hama, where pro-Assad forces stormed into parts of the city.
Arab diplomats circulated the draft resolution accusing Syria of rights violations to U.N. General Assembly members on Tuesday. The document also calls on the Syrian government to stop its deadly crackdown on the 11-month opposition uprising against Assad's autocratic rule. The diplomats say the resolution is likely to be put to a vote on Thursday and receive broad support in the 193-nation body.
U.N. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding and cannot be vetoed. Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this month, blocking the body from endorsing a Western and Arab-backed plan for President Assad to step aside as a way of ending the crisis.
U.S. officials say President Barack Obama expressed disappointment with China's veto at a Tuesday meeting with visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. At another Washington event attended by Xi, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States "strongly disagreed" with Beijing and Moscow for vetoing a resolution against what Biden called "unconscionable violence" by the Assad government.
China's official Xinhua news agency says Xi told Biden that Beijing's position on Syria is aimed at "safeguarding peace and stability in the Middle East" and is "in line with international principles." Both China and Russia have said the Security Council must not take sides in a domestic conflict or provide a pretext for foreign military intervention in Syria.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Monday the Council's failure to act has "emboldened" Assad to try to "crush dissent with overwhelming force." She also said there is evidence of "crimes against humanity" by the Assad government. Syrian state media rejected that charge on Tuesday.
Syria's Local Coordination Committees opposition group described the latest shelling of Homs as "brutal." Witnesses say food and fuel are scarce and most shops remain shut due to relentless mortar and rocket fire that has trapped people in their homes.
The bombardment has focused on the rebel-held Sunni Muslim district of Baba Amr. Internet videos showed black smoke and flames as shells crashed into buildings. Activists say the 10-day government assault on Homs has killed hundreds of people.
Arab League diplomats say arming Syrian opposition forces is an option they are considering if diplomatic efforts fail. Smuggled weapons already are filtering into Syria, but it is not clear who is behind the deliveries. Iraqi officials have said Sunni Muslim insurgents also are moving from northern Iraq into Syria.
The United Nations said last month that violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,400 people. U.N. officials stopped updating the death toll in January, saying it was too difficult to obtain information. Rights groups say hundreds more people have been killed since then.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.