Army shells homes in besieged Syrian city

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The Independent Online

The Syrian army shelled residential areas in the country's third-largest city yesterday, killing at least one person in a sharp escalation in the government's attempts to crush a popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic rule.

Heavy tank and gunfire rocked at least three suburbs in the besieged city of Homs, scene of some of the largest anti-government demonstrations during the seven-week-long uprising. "There were loud explosions and gunfire from automatic rifles throughout the night and until this morning," a resident said. "The area is totally besieged. We are being shelled." Activists said at least one person was shot dead, most likely by snipers, as he was leaving his home in the Bab Amr area. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

More than 750 people have been killed in a crackdown on the unrest and thousands of Syrians have been detained, with about 9,000 still in custody, said Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria.

Witnesses have reported the shelling of neighbourhoods in recent weeks, but the four-hour attack was the most intense, and signalled the government was stepping up its efforts to intimidate the population. The practice of shelling residential areas is not unprecedented in Syria.