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Syrian forces pound Homs, protests spread in Damascus

Assad's regime opens fire on protesters blocking roads in Damascus in solidarity with besieged cities as the Red Cross attempts to secure a ceasefire to deliver aid

AFP , Tuesday 21 Feb 2012
Syria
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, black smoke rise from an oil pipeline, in Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria, February 15, (Photo: AP).
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Syrian forces pounded neighbourhoods in the flashpoint city of Homs on Tuesday killing seven civilians, and opened fire in Damascus in a bid to halt the spread of protests in the capital, monitors said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven people, including a child, died in "intensive shelling" that targeted the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr, while the Khaldiyeh and Karm al-Zaytoun sectors were also blitzed.

Activists have said that in the past few days the regime has been bolstering its forces outside Homs, apparently to storm the city after 18 straight days of siege.

The Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group, said heavy shelling for two hours early Tuesday of Khaldiyeh and Karm al-Zaytoun later gave way to more sporadic attacks.

The group also reported that Syrian security forces opened fire overnight to disperse a demonstration in Damascus, as daring protests spread in the stronghold of President Bashar Al-Assad's regime.

Security forces opened fire at demonstrators who took to the streets in the capital's Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighbourhood overnight, the Observatory said.

Protesters during the night also blocked the roads leading to Baramkeh Square in the centre of the capital, according to Mohammed Shami, a spokesman for activists in Damascus province.

He said demonstrators used "burning materials" to shut the roads, triggering a security alert that saw "heavily armed forces" deployed in the area in few minutes.

The demonstrators were acting as part of a "campaign of civil disobedience in Damascus in support of Homs and afflicted Syrian cities," Shami said in a statement.

The Red Cross said Monday it was in talks with the Syrian authorities and rebels to halt the violence so that it can deliver aid, amid calls to allow women and children out of Homs.

Attacks in the battered city claimed 12 of the 24 people killed -- 19 civilians and five soldiers -- across the country on Monday, according to reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media.

Assad on Monday again accused foreign parties of funding and arming rebels to destabilise his country.

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