- Associated Press - Sunday, June 17, 2012

BEIRUT — Syrian troops intensified shelling of rebel-held neighborhoods in central Homs on Sunday, according to activists who say humanitarian conditions are growing more dire and are pressing for the evacuation of 1,000 endangered families and dozens of wounded people who can’t get adequate medical care.

Homs has been under siege for a week, part of a major escalation of violence around the country that forced the 300-strong U.N. observer force in Syria to call off its patrols.

“The humanitarian situation in Homs is very difficult,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “It is very clear that the army wants to retake Homs.”

The observatory asked the U.N. on Saturday to intervene in the violence in Homs and evacuate more than 1,000 endangered families, including women and children. It also said dozens of wounded people in rebel-controlled areas cannot get medicine or doctors to treat them.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, chief of the observer mission in Syria, said Saturday that intensifying clashes over the past 10 days were “posing significant risks” to the unarmed observers who are spread out across the country, and impeding their ability to carry out their mandate.

The observers’ decision came after weeks of escalating attacks, including reports of several mass killings that have left dozens dead.

The observers have been the only working part of a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, which the international community sees as its only hope to stop the bloodshed.

The plan calls for the foreign monitors to check compliance with a cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect on April 12, but they have become the most independent witnesses to the carnage on both sides as government and rebel forces have largely ignored the truce.

The statement calling off observer patrols reinforced fears that Syria is sliding ever closer to civil war 15 months after the rebellion to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad began.

Opposition groups say more than 14,000 civilians and rebels have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.

In Turkey, the leader of Syria’s main opposition group, Abdulbaset Sieda, said in a speech that the suspension of the observers’ activities shows that “the international community has given up hope on this regime that is in its last days.”

He added that Mr. Assad’s government has lost control over many large areas and “it’s now suffering from confusion and committing more crimes as revenge.”

“The international community must bear its … responsibilities to take decisive decisions through the [U.N.] Security Council under Chapter 7 to protect civilians,” said Mr. Sieda.

A Chapter 7 resolution authorizes actions to enforce that can ultimately include the use of military force, which U.S. administration and European officials - for now - are playing down as a possibility.