Syria forces 'kill 68 civilians,' Red Cross calls truce

Syrian forces killed 68 civilians as they blitzed the city of Homs and a village in Idlib province, monitors said, as the United States expressed support for a humanitarian ceasefire proposed by the Red Cross.

In the most significant incident, at least 33 people were killed yesterday in the village of Abdita in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Another 31 were killed in Homs province, including 21 people who died in "intensive shelling" that targeted Homs city's Baba Amr neighbourhood, with the Khaldiyeh and Karm al-Zaytoun districts also blasted.

And despite a plea by activists to allow women and children to flee Homs' besieged Baba Amr neighbourhood, more troops were sent to the outskirts of the restive city, with activists expressing fear they were preparing to storm it.

Homs-based activist Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution told AFP "large reinforcements were heading to Homs."

"We counted at least 150 shells crashing in Baba Amr within two hours this morning. We gave up counting afterwards," he said.

Omar Shaker, another activist, told AFP the neighbourhood had "no electricity, nor fuel," and that "snipers have hit water tanks," rendering the situation "bad beyond imagination."

Human Rights Watch emergency director Peter Bouckaert told AFP the watchdog had confirmed the use of Russian-made 240 mm mortars in Homs, which has been under assault for 18 days.

"We have little doubt that those extremely powerful mortars are being fired by the regime forces into civilian neighborhoods of Homs. We are talking about a 250-pound mortar round that can only be fired from a heavy specialised armoured vehicle and it requires a nine person crew to operate," he said.

AFP was not able to verify the death toll nor the reports of shelling, as foreign reporters are given only limited access within the country.

Security forces also opened fire to disperse a sit-in by 2,500 students at the University of Aleppo, the northern city that until recently been spared anti-regime demonstrations.

And secular groups demonstrated outside parliament against an article in the draft constitution that would require the president to be a Muslim.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called for a daily truce of two hours in Syria so it can deliver vital aid to afflicted areas, after saying a day earlier it was in talks with both sides to halt the violence.

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