BEIRUT — The United States accused the Syrian government of using "new horrific tactics" Monday, as U.N. observers reported Syrian helicopters were firing on rebellious areas and concerns mounted that civilians were trapped in besieged cities.
Violence in Syria has spiked in recent weeks, as both sides ignore an internationally brokered cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect April 12 but never took hold.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed concern about reports the regime "may be organizing another massacre" in Latakia province, where U.N. monitors have been impeded.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Mrs. Nuland said Syrian forces should remember Bosnia in the 1990s, and how the international community can find out who is responsible for abuses.
"People will be held accountable," she warned.
Activists reported more than 50 people killed across Syria on Monday, with violence in Homs, Idlib and Latakia provinces. According to their accounts, Syrian troops with helicopter gunships attacked Rastan, a rebel-held town in Homs province.
Rastan has resisted repeated government offensives for months.
The death toll and the online videos were impossible to independently verify.
According to videos posted online, fireballs of orange flame and black rubble exploded in the air as waves of shells pounded residential buildings in Homs on Monday. The sounds of shells whooshed through the sky and there was occasional sporadic machine-gun fire.
"What we are seeing right now are fierce clashes as the Syrian army tries to take back positions held by the rebels," said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of sources on the ground.
"There are many deaths in the rebel ranks," he said.
International envoy Kofi Annan said Monday he was "gravely concerned" about the escalation of fighting in Syria, citing the shelling of opposition areas in central Homs province and reports of mortar, helicopter and tank attacks near the Mediterranean coast.
He said he is particularly worried about shelling in Homs and reports of mortar, helicopters and tanks in the town of Haffa, in Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast.
"There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns," said his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.
In Damascus, the state-run news agency SANA said authorities foiled an attempt to blow up a car rigged with 1,500 pounds of explosives in the Damascus suburb of Chebaa on Monday. Experts dismantled it, SANA said.
Syrian activists say 13,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
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