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Red Cross negotiating pause to fighting in Syria

Activists in embattled cities such as Homs say food is running out and doctors lack medicine to treat the wounded.

Updated 10 p.m. ET: GENEVA -- The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is negotiating with Syrian authorities and opposition fighters to broker a cease-fire in some of the most violence-torn areas.

Meantime, activists say Syrian forces opened fire with live ammunition on demonstrators in Damascus overnight, wounding at least four, Reuters reported.

"We are currently discussing several possibilities with all those concerned, and it includes a cessation of fighting in the most affected areas," Red Cross spokeswoman Carla Haddad told The Associated Press.

She said the talks weren't aimed at resolving entrenched political differences, but to allow the humanitarian agency enough time to deliver aid to civilians hardest hit by the conflict.

"The idea is to be able to facilitate swift access to people in need," Haddad said.

Activists in embattled cities such as Homs say food is running out and doctors lack medicine to treat the wounded.

Violence in capital
Demonstrations and clashes with security forces have hit Damascus in the past week, undermining President Bashar al-Assad's argument that an 11-month uprising has been the work of saboteurs and limited mainly to the provinces.

International diplomacy showed no sign of finding a solution, as Western powers and the Arab League prepared a meeting of "Friends of Syria" Friday to pressure Assad to step down, while Russia and China backed Assad's reform plans, derided by Syria's opposition.

"There were hundreds of demonstrators at the main square of Hajar al-Aswad (neighborhood), and suddenly buses of security police and shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) turned up and started firing into the crowd," activist Abu Abdallah told Reuters by telephone.

He said the four wounded were taken to be treated in homes.

Footage posted on YouTube, purportedly taken before the shooting, showed a crowd marching in Hajar al-Aswad carrying placards in support of the besieged city of Homs and singing "Eyes are shedding tears for the martyrs among Syria's youth."

Earlier, opposition youths unfurled a pre-Assad era national flag over a road bridge at the edge of the capital, YouTube footage showed. That followed a weekend that saw one of the biggest demonstrations yet in the capital as the uprising neared its first anniversary.

‘Cut off from the outside world’
Opposition activists said five people had been killed in government shelling of Homs's Baba Amro district on Monday, adding to a reported death toll of several hundred since the operation began there on February 3.

Activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, cutting neighborhoods off from each other.

A flood of military reinforcements has been a prelude to previous offensives by Assad's 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.

A Free Syrian Army fighter stands guard in Idlib in northwestern Syria, near the Turkish border, on Sunday.

"Hama is cut off from the outside world. There are no landlines, no mobile phone network and no Internet. House-to-house arrests take place daily and sometimes repeatedly in the same neighborhoods," an opposition statement said.

Rebel fighters have been attacking shabbiha militiamen while avoiding open confrontations with the armored forces that had massed around Hama, a city north of Homs on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.

The government restricts foreign media access in Syria, making it hard to verify the activists' reports independently.

Security forces have killed more than 5,000 people, according to human rights groups, in a campaign to crush the revolt while the Assad government says more than 2,000 soldiers and security agents have been killed.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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