Demonstrators hold a banner that reads, "Demand international protection and humanitarian aid" during a protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad after Friday prayers in Al Qusour, Homs March 2, 2012. (Reuters Pictures)
BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian activists accused regime forces of carrying out execution-style killings and burning homes Friday as part of a scorched-earth campaign in a restive neighborhood in the city of Homs, while the Red Cross headed to the area following a bloody, monthlong siege to dislodge rebel forces.
Syria has faced mounting international criticism over its bloody crackdown on the uprising, which started with peaceful protests but has become increasingly militarized. The U.N. has estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the uprising began nearly a year ago. Activists put the death toll at over 8,000. [...]
Bassel Fouad, a Syrian activist who fled to Lebanon from Baba Amr two days ago, said a colleague there told him Friday that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen known as shabiha were conducting house-to-house raids.
"The situation is worse than terrible inside Baba Amr," Fouad said. "Shabiha are entering homes and setting them on fire."
His colleague said the gunmen lined 10 men up early Friday and shot them dead in front of a government cooperative that sells subsidized food. He said Syrian forces were detaining anyone over the age of 14 in the three-story building.
"They begin at the start of a street and enter and search house after house," he said. "Then they start with another street."
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said it had received reports of 10 people slain in front of a co-op and called on the Red Cross team heading to Homs to investigate claims by residents the building is being used a prison. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 14 were killed.
The claims could not be independently verified. Information from inside Baba Amr has been difficult to obtain in recent days. Activists elsewhere in the city said those in Baba Amr stopped using satellite connections for fear the government could use them to target strikes. Others accuse the government of scrambling signals.
The central city of Homs, Syria's third largest, has emerged as a key battleground in the uprising against President Bashar Assad that began in March 2011. Activists said hundreds were killed during the nearly monthlong siege, and many lived for days with little food and no electricity or running water.
The U.N. said it was alarmed by the reports of execution-style killings after the Syrian army seized Baba Amr from rebel forces in a major blow to the opposition.
In Geneva, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the agency had received unconfirmed reports of "a particularly grisly set of summary executions" involving 17 people in Baba Amr after government forces entered.