- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BEIRUT — Food and water are running dangerously low in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, with frantic cries for help from residents amid government shelling that pounded rebel strongholds and killed at least 30 people Tuesday, activists said.

Shells reportedly rained down on rebellious districts at a rate of 10 per minute at one point and the Red Cross called for a daily two-hour cease-fire so that it can deliver emergency aid to the wounded and sick.

“If they don’t die in the shelling, they will die of hunger,” activist and resident Omar Shaker told The Associated Press after hours of intense shelling concentrated on the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr that the opposition has extolled as a symbol of their 11-month uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Another 33 people were killed in northern Syria‘s mountainous Jabal al-Zawiya region when government forces raided a town in pursuit of regime opponents, raising Tuesday’s overall death toll to 63, activists said. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said more than 100 were killed Tuesday, but the report could not immediately be confirmed by others.

Russia, one of Assad’s remaining allies, urged the United Nations to send a special envoy to Syria to help coordinate security issues and delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Assad’s forces showed no sign of easing their assault on Homs, Syria‘s third-largest city, whose defiance has become an embarrassing counterpoint to the regime’s insistence that the opposition is mostly armed factions with limited public support.

The rebel defenses in Homs are believed to be bolstered by hundreds of military defectors, which has possibly complicated attempts by Syrian troops to stage an offensive. On Monday, reinforcements of Syrian tanks and soldiers massed outside the city in what could be a prelude to a ground attack.

“Government troops have been unable to advance because of stiff resistance from defectors inside,” an activist in Homs told the AP on condition of anonymity, because of fears of government reprisal. Another activist in Homs said the shelling started after repeated attempts by troops to storm the edges of Baba Amr, which the opposition has dubbed “Syria‘s Misrata” after the Libyan city that refused to fall to withering government attacks last year.

One Homs resident, communicating with the AP by Internet chat, said many people are unable or too scared to go to the hospital for treatment. Some are bleeding to death at home.

“My cousin is a doctor and he said they’ve given up on treating serious wounds. The numbers are too many to cope with especially with so little supplies,” said the resident, who has provided reliable information in the past. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fear of reprisal.

The resident, who lives just outside Baba Amr, said people in the neighborhood were surviving mostly on stocks of rice and canned corn and tuna, but those supplies also were running out fast after several weeks of attacks.

Some people go without bread for days, and when grocery stores and bakeries reopen during a lull in the shelling, long lines form quickly, the resident said, adding that shortages exist of all kinds of foodstuffs and vegetables.

The Red Cross said it has been negotiating with Syrian authorities and members of the opposition to agree a temporary cease-fire so emergency aid can reach beleaguered parts of the country.

“The current situation requires an immediate decision to implement a humanitarian pause in the fighting,” said Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. “In Homs and in other affected areas, entire families have been stuck for days in their homes, unable to step outside to get bread, other food or water, or to obtain medical care.”

Kellenberger said the cease-fire should last at least two hours daily, so that Red Cross staff and Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have enough time to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded.

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