Machine gun fire has killed at least 23 people in the flashpoint Syrian city of Homs, activists claimed Monday, just as Arab League observers were due to arrive to promote peaceful solution to 9 months of unrest.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was cited in The Daily Telegraph that 13 initially died when violence broke out Monday morning.
"The shells fired from heavy machine guns in the Baba Amr district caused 13 deaths on Monday morning and dozens of injuries. The situation is frightening and the shelling is the most intense of the last three days," said the activist group in a statement.
A lead group of 50 observers, headed by Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, was due to land in Syria later Monday to oversee an end to a bloody crackdown on dissent by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
According to Deutsche Welle:
The mission is part of a deal agreed to last week by President Bashar al-Assad's government with the Arab League, which has stepped up calls for the withdrawal of the Syrian army and militias, the release of detainees and an end to all forms of violence.
The crackdown has killed more than 5,000 people, the UN estimates. Damascus says it is fighting armed gangs.
Monitors are due to visit Homs on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing a source. "The Arab monitoring team will visit Homs as it is the most turbulent place," the source reportedly said.
The opposition, meantime, raised an alarm Sunday that the government forces were preparing for a massive assault on the city's Bab Amr district. There were even accusations that it used a twin suicide bombing in Damascus to mask its preparations.
(GlobalPost reports: Mourners call suicide bomb victims "martyrs;" anti-Assad groups fear offensive)
Monday's shelling using mortars and heavy machine gun fire, The Associated Press reported, was the most intense since Friday.
Amateur videos posted by activists on the Internet showed gruesome footage of at least four corpses lying in pools of blood in front of a house in Baba Amr, where they reportedly died from mortar shells that struck the neighborhood.
Men could be heard crying for help and women wailing in the video, which also showed several destroyed homes and cars.