Killer tanks rumble into Syria's Homs, as death toll rises

Despite the U.S., U.K. and Germany publicly calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, his tanks are killing again.

Syrian tanks moved into the rebellious city of Homs on Saturday, a day after 34 anti-regime protesters were killed, activists said.

The death toll rose again Saturday when two more people were killed in Rastan, a town between Homs and Hama, as security forces opened fire to disperse a demonstration, an activist said.

"Several tanks took up positions at dawn in the district of Al-Khalidiyeh," in Homs Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. "Throughout the night and this morning shots were heard from Al-Khalidiyeh to Baba Amr and Inshaat," he added, referring to two other central locations in the city.

Security forces attempting to clamp down on demonstrations surrounded mosques before noon prayers and killed at least 23 people with live gunfire, most in the southern Deraa province, Al Jazeera reported. The regime's actions show disregard for the impending UN mission to Syria.

The mission from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs is due to arrive on Saturday following a separate UN human rights report that recommended the Security Council consider referring Assad's government to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Security forces in al-Hirak, one of the towns where violence occurred on Friday, were refusing to return the bodies of six dead protesters to their relatives, an eyewitness told Al Jazeera.

"People are so angry here. They want the bodies back to bury but there are snipers all over the buildings and a curfew preventing anyone from leaving their home," he said.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC ), a Syrian activist network, reported that security forces had surrounded the Hirak Hospital to prevent the bodies being returned.

Heavy gunfire was being used to scare residents into staying at home, while pro-government Dunia TV filmed the empty streets, in an apparent effort to show Hirak was quiet.

A statement from a government website following the calls for Assad's ouster said that allies' statements reveal the "true face of the conspiracy" against Syria for its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Removing Syria from the conflict is "a strategic goal for Israel," according to al- Thawra.