Syria: Homs under ‘heaviest’ shelling yet – by Paul Wood
Paul Wood: « One word sums up the mood in Homs – despair »
It is very difficult to move around. I interviewed somebody yesterday about the shortage of bread. He had very bravely gone to another area of the city to get bread because his local bakery had been shelled. This morning he is lying in hospital with a bullet wound from a sniper.
There is a kind of hysteria here. People are absolutely terrified. There are all sorts of rumours – we heard people saying the army was coming, that the army was using chemical weapons. People are beside themselves. That is the effect that constant shelling produces.
We counted hundreds of what appeared to be tank shells and heavy artillery shells. They’re using air-burst shells as well. There is a lot of sniper fire. They appear to be deliberately targeting civilians. We saw an old lady and an old man shot by snipers as they crossed an intersection. Whatever the Syrian army’s intention, it is clear that civilians are bearing the brunt.
The Syrian city of Homs has come under renewed bombardment for the fifth day running – the heaviest so far, residents have told the BBC.
Activists say more than 40 people have died as a result of the new shelling, but this is difficult to verify.
The attacks come a day after President Bashar al-Assad promised the Russian foreign minister in Damascus that he would end violence and start dialogue.
Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution last week.
The BBC’s Paul Wood, who is now on the outskirts of Homs with rebel fighters, says most people in the hardest hit areas of the city are huddled indoors, too terrified to venture outside.
A resident of the Baba Amr area of Homs, Omar, told the BBC that the rocket and mortar attacks were indiscriminate.
« Every house here in Baba Amr is a target, » he said. « You have to be lucky to survive. »
He said a baby was killed when a rocket landed on a nearby house.
Unconfirmed reports claimed that pro-government militiamen known as « shabiha » were going door-to-door and killing indiscriminately.
There are also reports that 18 premature babies died after their incubators failed as a result of power cuts. State TV denied the reports and said Homs hospitals were operating normally.
Our correspondent says the city is full of rumours, with five days of almost constant shelling creating an atmosphere of hysteria and despair.
State TV reported that « armed terrorists » had attacked an oil refinery in the city. The government blames the violence of foreign-backed groups.
On Tuesday the Syrian president told visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that he was prepared to co-operate with plans for stability.
Following the talks in Damascus, Mr Lavrov called for dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition.
Speaking in Moscow on Wednesday, he said countries with influence over Mr Assad’s opponents should press them to start talks. Opposition leaders have ruled out talks and insist the president must quit.
Also on Wednesday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reaffirmed Russia’s condemnation of « violence from whichever side it comes » and said Syrians should « decide their own fate independently ».
Russia is a major arms supplier to Damascus and has its only Mediterranean naval base in Syria.
Last week Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution that backed a new Arab League plan for Syria.
The plan involved Mr Assad handing power to a deputy who would oversee a transition of power. Moscow said the draft would have forced regime change on Syria.
Since then, Syria has become increasingly isolated.
On Tuesday, Gulf Arab states said they would expel Syrian ambassadors and recall their envoys from Damascus.
The US closed its embassy in Syria on Monday, and several European countries have recalled their ambassadors.
In Homs, hundreds of people are reported to have died in heavy shelling since Friday.
The government insists it will continue its offensive until « order » is restored in the city.
Continuing violence against protesters has also been reported in other parts of Syria.
Activists said tanks bombarded the town of Zabadani, about 30km (19 miles) north-west of Damascus, on Tuesday.
Witnesses also reported clashes between government and rebel forces in Hama, another stronghold of anti-Assad sentiment.
Syria heavily restricts access to foreign journalists and the reports cannot be independently verified.
Human rights groups and activists say more than 7,000 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since the uprising began last March.
The UN stopped estimating the death toll in Syria after it passed 5,400 in January, saying it was too difficult to confirm.
President Assad’s government says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.
8 February 2012 Last updated at 14:07 GMT