Syrian forces in Homs mop-up
Damascus - Syrian ground forces were mopping up the last pockets of resistance of Homs on Wednesday, a security source said, even as Washington worked on a UN Security Council draft demanding humanitarian access.
A human rights watchdog and an activist in the central city denied that troops had moved into the rebel neighbourhood of Baba Amr, pounded by regime shelling for 26 straight days, insisting that clashes were continuing on the outskirts.
"The area is under control," the security source told AFP in Damascus, requesting anonymity.
"The army has started combing the area building by building and house by house. Now the troops are searching every basement and tunnel for arms and terrorists.
"There remain only few pockets" of resistance, the source added.
Gunfire heard several districts
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that rebel forces were "preventing an attempt to storm" the neighbourhood.
The Britain-based watchdog said gunfire could be heard in several districts of the city.
Homs-based activist Hadi Abdullah reported clashes and heavy shelling of Baba Amr but insisted that ground troops had not entered the neighbourhood.
"Regime forces did not enter Baba Amr until this moment. They are surrounding the district, while clashes are concentrated in the neighbourhoods of Inshaat and Malaab," he told AFP.
Abdullah said activists were "evacuating families because shelling has been targeting places that were considered safe in the past".
Earlier on Wednesday, activists on the ground in Syria's third-largest city said that elite troops of the Fourth Armoured Division under the command of Assad's brother Maher had taken up position with their armour around Baba Amr.
Access to Homs sealed off
Abdullah told AFP by telephone that it was a likely prelude to a final assault.
Access to Homs has now been completely sealed off, according to rebel commanders, who said the regular army had also blown up an underground aqueduct that had been the last viable route for smuggling in desperately needed supplies.
Abdullah said power had been cut to most of the city, a measure he said was another sign of possible looming attack.
Efforts to bring out Le Figaro journalist Edith Bouvier, who is trapped inside Baba Amr with multiple fractures, intensified after her British colleague Paul Conroy was successfully smuggled out to Lebanon on Monday night.
"We expect the government in Damascus to put all the conditions in place for a safe and rapid evacuation, in particular an immediate ceasefire in Baba Amr," said French foreign ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero.
US working on new UN resolution
Thirteen Syrian activists were killed trying to help Bouvier and Conroy and to bring in aid to Baba Amr, international activist group Avaaz said.
At the UN, diplomats said Washington had begun work on a new draft Security Council resolution demanding humanitarian access to besieged protest cities, such as Homs.
"This resolution will concentrate on humanitarian access to the cities, but it will indicate that the government is the cause of the crisis," one Security Council diplomat said.
Western nations hope that focusing on the humanitarian crisis will persuade Russia and China not to use their veto powers as permanent members of the 15-member council as they did against previous Western-drafted resolutions last October and again in early February.
The French foreign ministry spokesperson said the new text calls for a halt to violence and "immediate, unhindered access for humanitarian aid to the most threatened sites and the most vulnerable populations."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: "I solemnly appeal to Russia and China that they do not block this new resolution at the Security Council."
UN political chief B Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council "well over 7 500" people have been killed Syria since protests against Assad's regime erupted in March last year.