Syrian tanks lay siege to Homs

Elite troops backed by tanks massed round the Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday as Washington worked on a UN Security Council draft resolution demanding humanitarian access to trapped civilians.

China said it backed sending international aid as diplomats said the new text being drawn up by Washington focused on getting relief into cities under assault in a bid to avoid a third set of vetoes from Beijing and Moscow.

Washington said it opposed sending weapons to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad for fear that Al-Qaeda was exploiting the more than 11-month uprising against his regime after key US ally Saudi Arabia voiced strong support for arming the rebels.

Regime forces kept up their pounding of rebel neighbourhoods in Homs — under assault for 26 days — as efforts to bring wounded French journalist Edith Bouvier to safety intensified after her British colleague Paul Conroy was successfully smuggled out to Lebanon.

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 the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr. Hadi Abdullah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission said it was a likely prelude to a final assault.

Access to Homs has now been completely sealed off, according to commanders of the rebel Free Syrian Army, who said the Syrian 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 Bouvier, who has multiple fractures, intensified after French President Nicolas Sarkozy went back on an earlier statement that she had been rescued. “We expect 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 spokesman Bernard Valero.

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