The Syrian regime showed a new determination to crush its opponents Thursday, vowing to "cleanse" Homs of dissidents after nearly four weeks of shelling.
Syrian rebels defending the besieged Baba Amro district in Homs reported further fighting overnight and said they faced at least 7,000 troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.
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The massing troops outside the embattled neighborhood have raised fears of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists, who have been under heavy bombardment.
Diplomats said earlier that they feared 4th Armored Division was mounting a drive to "finish off" the rebels in Baba Amro.
The 4th Armored Division commanded by Maher Assad, the president's younger brother, has won a reputation for ruthlessness during the past year of revolt against the government.
A senior official of the rebel Free Syrian Army, Mohaimen al-Rumaid, said Thursday that opposition forces elsewhere in Syria had been ordered to step up the fight against government forces, to relieve pressure on Homs.
Rumaid said Assad was banking on overrunning Baba Amro, which has become a symbol of the uprising, to send the message that he would put down the revolution across the country.
"Baba Amro will be the straw that will break the regime's back. All of Syria is turning into Baba Amro," Rumaid vowed.
As the UN Security Council gears to vote on the third draft of its Syria resolution, and while the Arab League is still pushing for a diplomatic solution, the Obama administration summoned Syria's senior envoy in the US, Zuheir Jabbour, over the Homs offensive.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman expressed his "outrage over the month-long campaign of brutality and indiscriminate shelling" in Homs, according to a statement.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of Congress on Tuesday that Assad could be considered a war criminal.
The UN and the Arab League have appointed former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as their joint envoy to Syria, but Damascus says it needs more information on his mission's goals before it will let him in.
The UN estimates that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011.
Activists put the total death toll at more than 8,000, most of them civilians.
The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Syria on Thursday for widespread violations that may amount to crimes against humanity and called for a halt to attacks against civilians. The 47-member forum, holding an urgent debate, voted by 37 states in favor, 3 against including China and Russia, and 3 abstentions, to adopt a resolution brought by Gulf countries with Western backing. Syria was not present.
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