- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BEIRUT — Angry crowds blocked U.N. observers from reaching an embattled rebel-held town in Syria on Tuesday, hurling stones and metal rods at the monitors’ vehicles.

Their vehicles came under fire as they drove away from Haffa, but the source of the gunfire was not clear, the U.N. said.

None of the observers was injured.

The situation in Haffa has raised alarm over the past eight days, and there are concerns civilians are stuck in the area while the regime and rebel fighters battle for control.

Washington said Monday that regime forces may be preparing a massacre in rebel-held Haffa - a village about 20 miles from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s hometown of Kardaha.

It’s not clear why the crowd wanted to prevent the observers from entering, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said earlier that residents of a nearby village were trying to block the observers.

Citing a network of sources on the ground, the observatory said the residents were mostly regime loyalists.

Calls to the area did not go through Tuesday. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side.

Also Tuesday, Syrian forces pelted the eastern city of Deir el-Zour with mortars as anti-government protesters were dispersing before dawn Tuesday, killing at least 10 people, activists said.

The offensives were part of an escalation of violence in recent weeks that has brought more international pressure on Mr. Assad’s regime over its brutal tactics against the opposition.

The U.N. accused the government of using children as human shields in a new report. It said children have been victims of detention, torture and sexual violence.

Both sides of the 15-month-old revolt have ignored an internationally brokered cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect April 12 but never took hold. The U.S. and its allies also have shown little appetite for getting involved in another Arab nation in turmoil.

Syria is veering ever closer to an all-out civil war as the conflict turns increasingly militarized. Already more than 13,000 have died since March 2011, according to activist groups.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, has asked governments with influence to “twist arms” to halt the escalating violence in the country, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Mr. Annan also is working to convene a diplomatic meeting soon to discuss the situation in Syria amid worsening fighting between government troops and opposition forces.

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