NEWS
07/02/2012 04:47 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 09:45 GMT

Syria Violence: Army Pounds Homs As Russia's Sergei Lavrov Arrives For Talks

The Syrian Army has launched a fresh assault on the rebel stronghold of Homs, where 95 people are said to have been killed in a sustained attack on Monday.

In response to the continued violence the governments of Italy and France have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria, placing further pressure on the regime.

It was also reported that some Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman had withdrawn their officials from the country.

But even as pressure on the government mounted, the Russian foreign minister arrived in Damascus to meet President Assad and was greeted by cheering crowds waving pro-regime flags.

Reports of attacks by government forces on civilians continued on Tuesday, with Sky News reporter Stuart Ramsay describing horrific scenes of violence inside civilian homes.

Injured fighters from the "outgunned" Free Syrian Army were described stumbling into houses, with some dying of their wounds.

Ramsay reported that one fighter who had been shot through the heart fell into a building and died immediately of his wounds.

Global protest network Avaaz said that at least 74 people were killed in Homs on Monday, most in the Baba Amr section.

Many more who have been injured could die because of low quantities of medical kits, beds, doctors and nurses.

Describing a "desperate medical situation", Avaaz told the Huffington Post UK that Baba Amr and Khaldiya were "still being shelled every few minutes".

The violence grew even as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Lavrov was given a warm welcome by thousands of flag-waving Assad loyalists, who thronged the streets to show support for Moscow's recent veto of a UN resolution condemning the violence.

Lavrov reportedly told Assad that he wanted the Arab people "to live in peace".

"Every leader of every country must be aware of his share of responsibility. You are aware of yours,"the Russian state-run RIA quoted Lavrov as saying.

"It is in our interests for Arab peoples to live in peace and agreement," he said.

Former British foreign secretary and chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP said that that Russia had "blood on its hands" after vetoing the UN security council resolution.

He told Sky News: "The violence which has erupted today is a direct consequence of the Russian UN veto ... we need to consider a complete economic embargo of the Syrian government."

Meanwhile the prime minister said that he would chair a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the deteriorating situation inside the country.

Violence across Syria continued on Tuesday as Reuters reported that government-back Syrian troops were targeting the Bab Amro neighbourhood of Homs.

Mohammad al-Hassan, an activist in the city told the agency: "A doctor tried to get in there this morning but I heard he was wounded."

"There is no electricity and all communication with the neighbourhood has been cut."

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, 21-year-old "freedom fighter" Omar Shakir said on Monday he feared for his life, with the Syrian army firing "more than one rocket every minute" into the district of Baba Amr.

Activists have suggested that the attack on Homs is designed to show Lavrov and the Russian administration that Assad is in control of the situation.

Russia and China have been heavily criticised by the West for vetoing a UN resolution designed to bring extra pressure to bear on the Syrian regime.

British foreign secretary William Hague accused the two security council members of a "betrayal of the Syrian people".

"There is no need to mince words about this. China and Russia have twice vetoed reasonable and necessary action by the UN Security Council," he said

"In deploying them, they have let down the Arab League, they have increased the likelihood of what they wish to avoid in Syria, civil war, and they have placed themselves on the wrong side of Arab and international opinion."

On Monday, the head of the Arab League released a statement warning that the bombing of Homs was leading leading the country towards civil war.

"We follow with great anxiety and irritation developments in the field situation in Syria, and the escalation of military operations in the city of Homs and rural areas of Damascus, and the Syrian armed forces' use of heavy weapons against civilians," it read.

Syrian state TV has blamed Monday’s violence on “terrorist groups”, who were staging the shelling and setting fire to buildings to give the impression of an attack.

Assad's British-born wife Asma broke her 11-month silence in the Times this morning, telling the paper that she supports her husband and that she was focused on comforting" families of the victims of the violence".

Britain has recalled its ambassador from Syria and the United States has shut its embassy in Damascus.