Homs has been bombarded repeatedly since Friday in an escalation of the violence
3:35am UK, Tuesday February 07, 2012
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to visit Damascus today for talks with Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
Mr Lavrov is set to be joined at the talks with the Syrian leader by the head of the Russian foreign intelligence service.
The visit risks escalating international anger at Russia, which along with China vetoed a UN resolution condemning the crackdown at the weekend.
Mr Lavrov said condemnations of the veto had verged on “hysteria” and insisted his trip was aimed at achieving “the swiftest stabilisation” through democratic reform.
Sky’s chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, who is reporting from the city, said 12 separate areas came under attack.
Images showed plumes of smoke as rockets and mortars pounded the area. Activists said a medical clinic was among the targets and put the death toll at more than 60.
Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed there since last Friday in what is potentially the worst violence of the 11-month uprising against the Assad regime.
The Syrian authorities have denied firing on houses and said security forces had in fact killed “tens of terrorists” in the city.
Britain and Belgium have now withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria and the United States announced on Monday night that it had closed its embassy.
US President Barack Obama says a negotiated solution was still possible and stressed the need to resolve the crisis without military intervention.
“My sense is you are seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter and the Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them. This is not a matter of if but when,” he said during an NBC interview.
The US has expressed fury at Russia and China’s veto of the UN resolution in a move Syrian opposition groups said had granted the Assad regime a “licence to kill”.
Washington’s UN ambassador Susan Rice said: “Russia and China will, I think, come to regret this decision which has aligned them with a dying dictator, whose days are numbered, and put them at odds with the Syrian people and the entire region,”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had already called the double veto on the Syrian resolution a “travesty”.
Meanwhile, President Assad’s British-born wife has spoken out for the first time since the uprising began and expressed her support for her husband, according to reports.
“The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role,” she said in an email sent via an intermediary, according to The Times.
It continued: “The First Lady’s very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved with and rural development as well as supporting the President as needed,” the email reportedly continued.
“These days she is equally involved in bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue. She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence.”