Syrian air strikes in the central city of Homs on Sunday killed three civilians as regime forces pressed forward with a new bid to retake several rebel-controlled districts, a watchdog said.
“Syrian warplanes carried out air strikes on the Old City of Homs destroying a house and causing three deaths,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Regime forces also carried out heavy shelling of the districts of Khaldiyeh and the Old City, and the sound of explosions could be heard,” the group added.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said at least three civilians, a woman and two children, were killed in the air strikes in the Old City, and that dozens of people had been injured since the army assault began on Saturday.
“The army is continuing its attempt to enter Khaldiyeh, but it hasn’t succeeded so far,” he said.
On Saturday, the group said regime forces were engaged in “unprecedented” bombardment of several parts of Homs, including Khaldiyeh, Bab Hud, Hamidiyeh and Bustan al-Diwan.
A security source in Damascus confirmed fierce fighting was under way.
“Military operations never stopped in Homs, but their pace increases according to priorities,” he told AFP on Saturday.
“What’s important is to cleanse those neighbourhoods of Homs that are in the hands of armed terrorists, particularly Khaldiyeh, Hamidiyeh and the Old City,” he added.
Syria’s Al Watan daily, which is close to the government, said on Sunday that the army had “made qualitative new advances in the city of Homs amid fierce clashes with armed militias in Khaldiyeh and Bab Hud”.
And state news agency SANA cited a military source as saying “a number of terrorists were eliminated and their weapons and ammunition destroyed in Khaldiyeh neighbourhood”.
The operation prompted Syria’s key opposition National Coalition to issue a statement late on Saturday urging “battalions of the Free Syrian Army to come to the aid of Homs with all means possible”.
The group also called on international backers of the uprising to establish a no-fly zone and launch air strikes against regime military bases.
Homs, the third largest city in the country, was one of the first to join the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime more than two years ago.
Khaldiyeh and the Old City have been under siege by the army for around a year.
Elsewhere, the Observatory said at least six people were killed when the helicopter they were in was shot down by rebels in Aleppo province.
SANA confirmed that a government helicopter was “targeted by terrorists over the town of Nabl”.
The state news agency said education officials carrying official examination papers had been on board.
“The targeting led to the helicopter crashing and the death of seven officials and the helicopter crew,” the agency said, without specifying the total number killed.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground, said at least 95 people were killed throughout the country on Saturday 36 civilians, 35 rebels and 24 soldiers.