- Associated Press - Thursday, February 9, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Between blasts of rockets and mortar fire, Syrians used loudspeakers to call for blood donations and medical supplies Thursday in the stricken city of Homs, where a weeklong government offensive has created a deepening humanitarian crisis.

Government forces are trying to crush pockets of violent resistance in Homs, the epicenter of an 11-month-old uprising that has brought the country ever closer to civil war. The intense shelling in restive neighborhoods such as Baba Amr has made it difficult to get medicine and care to the wounded, and some areas have been without electricity for days, activists say.

“Snipers are on all the roofs in Baba Amr, shooting at people,” Abu Muhammad Ibrahim, an activist in Homs, told the Associated Press by phone.

“Anything that moves, even a bird, is targeted. Life is completely cut off. It’s a city of ghosts,” he added.

As he spoke, explosions could be heard in the background.

“The bombardment has not eased, day or night,” he said, asking to be identified by his nickname for fear of reprisals. “Do you hear the sound of the rockets? Children have been wounded, elderly with extreme injuries.”

Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed since early Saturday in the heaviest attack the city has endured since the uprising began in March, activists said.

“This brutal assault on residential neighborhoods shows the Syrian authorities’ contempt for the lives of their citizens in Homs,” said Anna Neistat, associate emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Those responsible for such horrific attacks will have to answer for them.”

Human Rights Watch also said eyewitness accounts, as well as video reviewed by the group’s arms experts, suggested Syrian government forces are using long-range, indirect-fire weapons such as mortars.

Such weapons “are inherently indiscriminate when fired into densely populated areas,” the New York-based group said.

The wounded have overwhelmed makeshift hospitals and clinics, and there were growing concerns that the locked-down city soon could run out of supplies.

“There is medicine in the pharmacies, but getting it to the field clinics is very difficult. They can’t get the medicine to the wounded,” Mohammed Saleh, a Syria-based activist, told the AP by telephone.

Baba Amr, he said, has been without electricity since Saturday.

The assault on Homs began after reports that army defectors and other armed opponents of President Bashar Assad were setting up their own checkpoints and taking control of some areas. The reports could not be confirmed.

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