Syrian Opposition Says 12 Die in Shootout

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BEIRUT (AP) — Government troops heavily shelled rebellious districts in the resistance stronghold of Homs Tuesday, killing at least 12 people and compounding fears of a new round of bloody urban combat in a country careening toward all-out civil war.

[See photos of the crackdown in Syria.]

Activists said the intense shelling of Baba Amr in Homs lasted a few hours but did not seem to be the start of a widely expected military offensive aimed at retaking rebel-held neighborhoods in the central region. Two of the 12 people killed were children, activists said.

In the northern province of Aleppo, the government said a Syrian businessman was shot dead in front of his home in what appears to be the latest in a series of targeted that suggest armed factions are growing bolder and more coordinated in their uprising against President Bashar Assad.

An activist inside Homs said the shelling started after repeated attempts by troops to storm the edges of Baba Amr.

"Government troops have been unable to advance because of stiff resistance from defectors inside," he told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, fearing government reprisals.

The military sent columns of tanks and other reinforcements toward Homs on Monday, activists said. A flood of military reinforcements has been a prelude to previous offensives by the authoritarian regime, which has tried to use its overwhelming firepower to crush an opposition that has been bolstered by defecting soldiers and hardened by 11 months of street battles.

On Monday, the Red Cross said it was trying to broker a cease-fire among all parties in Syria to allow emergency aid in.

[Debate Club: Should the U.S. Intervene in Syria?]

On Tuesday, Russia said the United Nations should send a special envoy to Syria to help coordinate security issues and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that it's proposing that the U.N. Security Council ask the U.N. Secretary General to send the envoy.

Despite the humanitarian activity, activists reported heavy shelling of the Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and Karm el-Zeytoun districts — all in Homs. It lasted for more than two hours early in the morning, followed by intermittent attacks concentrated on Baba Amr.

Baba Amr on Homs' southwest edge has become the center of the city's opposition. Hundreds of army defectors are thought to be taking shelter there, clashing with troops in hit-and-run attacks each day.

Phone lines have been cut with the city, making it difficult to get firsthand accounts from Homs residents.

Activist Omar Shaker, who recently fled from Baba Amr center to the edges, said at one point in the morning the shells were falling at a rate of around 10 per minute. He said he saw thick gray smoke rise from residential areas. Among the 12 dead were two children, he said.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, also said 12 people died in the shelling, but added there was no indication yet that a major ground assault to take back Baba Amr had begun.

Shaker called on countries attending a planned "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunisia at the end of this week to find ways of helping the Syrian people.

"People don't care if it's the devil intervening to save us from Bashar, we need the world's help," he said.

State-run news agency SANA said Syrian businessman Mahmoud Ramadan was shot dead Tuesday by gunmen in the northern province of Aleppo.

Gunmen on Sunday staged a guerrilla-style ambush attack in northern Syria that killed a senior state prosecutor and a judge. On Saturday, a member of the Aleppo city council was also killed. The city has been a center of support for Assad since the uprising began.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Monday the world body should help solve humanitarian issues in Syria.

Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Assad's crackdown on protests that killed 5,400 in 2011 alone, according to the U.N. Hundreds more have been killed since, activist groups say. One of the groups puts the toll at more than 7,300.