NICOSIA: Syria's opposition on Monday called for "international protection for civilians" in the central city of Homs, besieged by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and theatre of deadly clashes between soldiers and alleged army deserters.
Declaring Homs a "humanitarian disaster area," the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to act "to stop the massacre committed by the regime."
In a statement received by AFP in Nicosia, it called on the international community to send "Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres."
The Syrian National Council, which groups the main currents of the opposition, also called in its statement for the evacuation of civilians away from "areas that are under shelling and destruction."
The group said the Syrian regime had "launched a large-scale attack" overnight Sunday to Monday on the neighbourhoods of Homs and that "indiscriminate slaughter is being committed by the regime's militias."
The army, which has sought to crush the protest movement that erupted in March through force, was "using heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and warplanes to bomb populated residential neighborhoods" in Homs, it said.
"For the fifth consecutive day, the Syrian regime imposed a brutal siege on the brave city of Homs, aiming to break the will of its residents, and to brutalise its steadfast people who have dared to reject the regime's authority and mandate, and insisted on demanding their legitimate rights for freedom and dignity," it added.
The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 people have been killed across Syria in a brutal crackdown by the security forces since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy artillery clashes erupted overnight between soldiers and presumed defectors in Homs leaving "dozens of dead and wounded in both camps."
"Shooting could be heard in Homs where neighbourhoods came under heavy machine gunfire at dawn," said the Observatory in a statement, adding "more than 40 explosions were heard."
One citizen was killed in the neighbourhood of Deir Baalba in Homs after "being shot by Syrian security forces" said the Observatory.
"Most neighbourhoods of the city are witnessing gunfire from security and military checkpoints," said the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network spurring protests on the ground.
Violent overnight clashes pitted Syrian soldiers and gunmen believed to be dissidents in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province, near the border of Turkey, but there was "no information yet on the number casualties," the Observatory said.
"Heavy gunfire" could be heard on Monday at a junction in the village of Hish, which lies on the international highway connecting Khan Sheikhun to Maaret al-Numan, the rights group added.
Dozens of soldiers searched cars for people "wanted" by the regime, it said.
The Arab League has called an emergency meeting in Cairo next Saturday on Syria's failure to implement its peace plan.
The League said the meeting was called because of "the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan to resolve the Syrian crisis."
Security forces reportedly killed at least 19 demonstrators on Sunday after prayers on one of Islam's holiest days.
The latest deaths bring to at least 70 the number of people killed since Assad's government signed on to the Arab League peace plan on November 2.