Syrian government troops heavily shelled key districts in the strategic city of Homs Monday, battling opposition forces for a 10th straight day in an apparent attempt to divide the rebel-held north and forge a safe zone between the capital and the Mediterranean coast.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Bab Hood and al-Safsafa districts were hit with heavy artillery, mortar bombs and tank fire. It did not give casualty figures, which are hard to confirm due to media and security restrictions.
Also Monday, the newly elected head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, told Reuters news agency he expects advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia to reach rebel fighters soon, strengthening their military position.
Jarba, who has close links to Saudi Arabia, said the opposition would not go to a proposed peace conference in Geneva sponsored by the United States and Russia unless its military fortunes improve.
Russian foreign ministry officials said Jarba's comments raise questions about his dedication to a political solution for the conflict and urged the group to attend the hoped-for peace conference.
Homs is located at a strategic crossroads linking Damascus with army bases in coastal regions controlled by President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated majority Sunni Syria for decades.
A Syrian government official said the army had taken control of the city's contested Khaldiyeh district. Activists denied the claim but said Homs was seeing the fiercest fighting since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011.
Video uploaded by activist groups in Homs showed massive destruction in areas around the city's 13th-century Khalid Ibn Al-Walid mosque along with heavy shelling uninterrupted for minutes at a time.
In Damascus, Syria's ruling Baath party announced Monday it had replaced its top leadership team, including Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa. He remains vice president despite his removal from the party leadership.
Syria's state-run television said the new Baath party command, which is the party's top decision-making body, was chosen during a meeting of the party's central committee.
Assad remains the party's secretary-general. Syria's Baath party has ruled the country since 1963.