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Clashes across Syria left 71 people dead on Monday, as the UN rights chief Navi Pillay urged the Syrian government to stop shelling civilians, calling such attacks “crimes against humanity.”

“The government of Syria should immediately cease the use of heavy armaments and shelling of populated areas, as such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes,” Pillay said while addressing the council at the opening of its 20th session in Geneva.

Pillay has previously said that crimes committed in Syria during the regime’s 16-month crackdown on pro-democracy protesters should be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Activists inside Syria said most of the dead on Monday were from the central province of Homs, which has been under siege by government forces for 10 days, and from areas on the outskirts of Damascus.

The UN commissioner’s statement came as the chief of the UN observer mission in Syria, General Robert Mood, urged rival forces in Syria to allow the evacuation of trapped and wounded civilians in restive areas across the country.

“The parties must reconsider their position and allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones without any preconditions and ensure their safety,” Mood said.

Activists have said there are an estimated 1,000 families trapped in Homs alone, and scores of wounded people are in need of urgent medical assistance.

On Saturday, Mood announced the suspension of the UN mission in Syria. The decision was seen as a clear sign that a peace plan brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan had failed to halt the violence.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late Monday that 22 people were killed in Douma. In Homs, more than 20 people were killed in the heavy Shelling, while 15 were killed in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, activists said.

Four rebel fighters, including an officer, were killed earlier in the day in the town of al-Kussair near the Lebanon border, and a civilian died in shelling in the town of Rastan, the Observatory said.

Activists reported that the rest of Monday’s casualties were in the northern province of Aleppo and the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the Syrian uprising since March 2011.

Abu Alaa, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army, told dpa earlier that the siege on Homs “is now tighter as some of the passageways which we use to smuggle food and medical supplies have fallen under the control of government forces,” he said.

More than 14,400 people, mainly civilians, have been killed since a pro-democracy uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, according to the opposition. The UN estimates the number of dead at over 9,500.

An updated report issued on Monday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that number of Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon has risen to 28,000.

Meanwhile, Arab media cited the Interfax news agency saying that Russia was preparing to send two amphibious ships to the Syrian port of Tartous, to evacuate Russian citizens if the situation in Syria deteriorates further.

Russian officials have repeatedly spoken out against calls by western nations for an international military intervention against the regime of al-Assad.

DPA

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