UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT – Syrian government forces stepped up shelling of Homs on Friday, the United Nations said, as the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a call to help civilians trapped in the key town.
Russia opposed a UNSC statement proposed by Australia and Luxembourg, who halted several days of negotiations as it became clear no compromise was possible, diplomats said.
The United Nations expressed mounting concern, however, over about 4,000 civilians caught in the battle for Homs’ Old City.
President Bashar Assad’s forces and fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah launched a fierce onslaught on rebel-held districts in the city on June 28.
Homs-based activist Tarik Badrakhan said Saturday that Syrian troops seized control of buildings in the rebel-held district of Khaldiyeh, the first time government forces entered Homs neighborhoods held by rebels for over a year.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government and rebel forces were fighting on the outskirts of Khaldiyeh, which is gearing up to become a new landmark battle in Syria’s 27-month-old civil war.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he fears for the “trapped” civilians and called for them to be let out. But the Security Council’s efforts to back the call for access became deadlocked.
Diplomats said that Russia, Assad’s major international ally, delayed versions of a statement under negotiation throughout the week that would have demanded the Syrian government allow “immediate” access to Homs.
Russia similarly blocked a UNSC call last month for access to rebel-held Qusair until government forces and their Hezbollah allies had taken the key town.