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Syrian opposition says Homs a 'disaster area'
Syrian opposition declares city of Homs disaster area, 1-day death toll rises to 23 nationwide
By The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) ' A key Syrian opposition group appealed Monday for international intervention to protect civilians in a besieged central city as security forces shot dead one person, raising the death toll from the latest government offensive in Homs to 17, activists said.

Activists said Monday that 23 people were killed across Syria a day earlier, including at least 16 people in and around Homs, which has experienced a fierce assault by government troops over the past five days.

The city of about 800,000 has turned into one of the main centers of protest and reprisal during the nearly 8-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad and scores of people have been killed in recent weeks.

Over the course of the uprising, government troops have cracked down repeatedly on Homs, Syria's third largest city, and have imposed a tight siege in the past five days amid reports of shelling, explosions and heavy gunfire.

Some of the fighting is reported to have involved members of the military who defected to the protesters and were fighting to protect civilians, according to Syrian activist groups. Many army defectors are believed to have taken refuge in Baba Amr and other districts of Homs.

The opposition umbrella Syrian National Council declared Homs a "disaster area" and called for international protection for civilians and for sending Arab and international observers to oversee the situation on the ground.

"For the fifth consecutive day, the Syrian regime is imposing a brutal siege on the brave city of Homs, aiming to break the will of its residents who have dared to reject the regime's authority," it said in a statement Monday.

The group said the latest siege was preventing medical supplies and food from getting into Homs and preventing families from moving to safer areas.

Hozan Ibrahim, a member of the Syrian National Council and spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees activist network, said the focus of the latest assault was the Baba Amr district of Homs ' a hotbed of dissent ' and surrounding areas.

"The area has been under tight siege and its residents are being terrorized with all forms of weaponry," he said.

Violence in Syria has continued unabated, though Damascus agreed to an Arab-brokered peace plan to halt its crackdown on the uprising that the U.N. says has left 3,000 people dead.

The violence prompted Qatar's prime minister to call for an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the Syrian government's failure to abide by its commitments.

Egypt's official news agency MENA reported Sunday that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani called for the meeting "in light of the continuing acts of violence and the Syrian government's noncompliance" with the terms of the Arab plan.

Under the Arab League plan, Syria's government agreed to pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces killed one person in the Deir Baalba district of Homs Monday. The latest casualty raises to 17 the number of people killed in Homs in the past 24 hours.

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