UN says Syrian helicopters fire on rebel strongholds
UN monitors said Syrian helicopters fired on rebel strongholds north of Homs and called for "immediate and unfettered access" to conflict zones where they had heard many women and children were trapped.International mediator Kofi Annan also said he was gravely concerned about violence in Homs and in Haffeh, a mainly Sunni Muslim town near the Mediterranean coast, where the US State Department said it feared a "potential massacre".
The UN observers, tasked with monitoring Annan's April ceasefire deal which failed to stem the violence in Syria, have instead been cataloguing mass killings, bombings and clashes in which many hundreds of Syrians have died.
The outside world, divided in its approach towards President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on a 15-month-old uprising, has been unable to halt the violence despite broad international support for Annan's tattered peace plan.
"UN observers reported heavy fighting in Rastan and Talbiseh, north of (Homs), with artillery and mortar shelling, as well as firing from helicopters, machine guns and smaller arms," U.N. spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said in a statement.
It was the first time the UN monitors have verified repeated allegations by activists that Assad's forces have fired from helicopters in the military crackdown on rebels. Syria's government is the only force in the conflict equipped with helicopters.
The observers "also received reports of a large number of civilians, including women and children trapped inside (Homs) and are trying to mediate their evacuation," Ghosheh said.
UN observers reported Free Syrian Army rebels captured army soldiers, she added, calling on "all sides to stop the killing and human rights abuses to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international law."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 63 civilians were killed across Syria on Monday, nearly half of them in the northern province of Idlib. Twenty-one soldiers and security forces were killed, most of them in rebel bomb attacks, it said.
In the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, 10 people were killed when a car bomb detonated in the Jura district, the British-based Observatory said, but activists said more than 16 people were killed and dozens more wounded.
Syria's state news agency reported military funerals on Monday for 26 people "targeted by armed terrorist groups as they carried out their national duty".
A spokesman for Annan said he was gravely concerned by the latest reports of violence and "the escalation of fighting by both government and opposition forces".