Syrian artillery have pounded the rebel city of Rastan, killing seven civilians, monitors say, as the Red Cross delivered aid to refugees who have fled the nearby battered quarter of Baba Amr.
The aid distribution came as relief agencies waited for a third day for the go-ahead to enter the Homs district of Baba Amr, where hundreds of people are reported to have been killed and even more wounded in an almost month-long blitz.
The shelling of Rastan on Sunday – which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said killed seven people, including four children, when a house was hit – coincided with a call from China on all parties to ‘unconditionally’ end the violence.
‘Since dawn, the positions of deserters in the north of Rastan have been subject to intensive shelling,’ Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP.
Rebels on February 5 declared Rastan ‘liberated’ from President Bashar al-Assad’s control, but since Homs was overrun by regime forces on Thursday, army deserters have been braced for an onslaught on Rastan and Qusayr, also near Homs.
Rastan, like Homs, is a strategic city on the main road linking Damascus with northern Syria.
The Observatory had on Friday reported 12 civilians, including five children, killed when a rocket hit a crowd of protesters in Rastan.
The latest deaths in Rastan raised to at least 11 the number of civilians killed across Syria on Sunday, according to the Observatory which also reported a soldier killed in the northwest province of Idlib.
In the northern city of Aleppo, a 10-year-old boy was killed by a bomb placed outside a school in Bustan al-Basha district, the group said.
AFP was not immediately able to verify the Observatory’s reports because of restrictions on foreign journalists in Syria.
Rebels withdrew from Baba Amr in Homs on Thursday in the face of a ground assault by regime forces following a bombardment since early last month that the US-based Human Rights Watch said had killed some 700 people.
HRW said shells sometimes fell in Baba Amr at a rate of 100 an hour, and that satellite images showed 640 buildings visibly damaged, stressing that the real picture could be worse.
The Syrian authorities have been condemned by the international community for barring Red Cross convoys from entering Baba Amr to evacuate the wounded and distribute supplies.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it delivered relief supplies on Sunday to refugees from Baba Amr in a nearby village.
‘We have started to distribute humanitarian aid in Abel village, three kilometres from Baba Amr,’ ICRC spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh said.
‘Many refugees from Baba Amr are in Abel,’ he said, adding they were being given food and blankets.
Dabbakeh said a similar operation would take place in Inshaat, another district in Homs, while the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent awaited the go-ahead from the authorities to enter Baba Amr itself.
A seven-truck aid convoy has been waiting since Friday to enter Baba Amr, with the authorities saying they were being barred for their own safety because of the presence of bombs and landmines.
The United Nations says more than 7500 people have been killed since March last year in the crackdown by Syrian forces on pro-democracy demonstrations.