An aid convoy has been refused access to Baba Amr district of Homs, where residents have been without water for the last four days. Elsewhere in Syria, there have been anti-government protests following Friday prayers. Human rights campaigners claim that 13 people were killed when troops fired a mortar into a crowd of demonstrators in the town of Rastan. Britain's Channel Four News correspondent Carl Dinnen reports.
Saudi Arabia said that Syrians have a right to take up arms to defend themselves against the regime and accused the Damascus government of "imposing itself by force" on Sunday, as concerns mounted over a humanitarian crisis there.
In a rare televised news conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom welcomed international efforts to broker a ceasefire in Syria but added that they have "failed to stop the massacres."
"Is there something greater than the right to defend oneself and to defend human rights?" he asked, adding that the Syrian people want to defend themselves. "The regime is not wanted by the people. The regime is insisting on imposing itself by force on the Syrian people."
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing sending military aid to the Syrian opposition, but the U.S. and others have not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict.
Sunni Saudi Arabia is wary of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings, particularly in nearby Bahrain, where a Shiite majority is demanding greater rights from its Sunni rulers. However, the kingdom strongly backs the largely Sunni uprising in Syria.
On Sunday Red Cross teams handed out food, blankets and medical kits in central Homs province, but the government blocked access to the worst-hit district of Baba Amr.
The humanitarian group was trying to help families who fled Baba Amr after a monthlong siege and took shelter in nearby villages, ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said in Geneva.
"The needs are so far mainly in the forms of food and also blankets because of the cold," Hassan said.
Government forces have blocked humanitarian access to Baba Amr since Friday, the day after troops seized it from rebels. Opposition fighters had been in control of the neighborhood for several months, and a regime offensive on Homs that began in early February aimed to retake rebel-held neighborhoods inside the city.
Syrian troops managed to take control of Baba Amr after nearly a month of intense and relentless shelling, and activists say hundreds were killed in the daily bombardments that led up to the final battle on Thursday. Some Baba Amr residents were killed when, in desperation, they dared to venture out of their homes to forage for food.
The humanitarian disaster in Homs, Syria, is getting worse by the day as attempts to bring in aid are being blocked by the government. NBC's Ayman Mohyledin reports.
Activists have said residents face a humanitarian catastrophe in Baba Amr and other parts of Homs, Syria's third-largest city with a population of 1 million. Electricity, water and communications have been cut off, and recent days have seen frigid temperatures and snowfall. Food was running low, and many residents were too scared to venture out.
The government had said it would allow the Red Cross into Baba Amr on Friday but then blocked their access, citing security concerns. In the meantime, activists accused Syrian forces of killing dozens of residents execution-style and burning homes in revenge attacks against those believed to be supporting the rebels.
As the brutal siege of Homs dragged on, Western pressure on President Bashar Assad intensified. The U.S. has called for Assad to step down, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he could be considered a war criminal. The European Union committed itself to document war crimes in Syria to set the stage for a "day of reckoning" for the country's leadership, in the way that former Yugoslav leaders were tried for war crimes in the 1990s by a special U.N. tribunal.
While they continue to appeal for unfettered access to Homs, Red Cross workers were focusing on distributing aid in the village of Abel, about two miles from Homs. They hope to distribute aid in the neighborhoods of Inshaat and Tawzii on Monday.
Homs has emerged as a central battleground in the conflict, which started last March with protests calling for the ouster of authoritarian President Bashar Assad in some of the country's impoverished hinterlands.
The protests spread as the government waged a bloody crackdown on dissent, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the uprising.
Syrian activists also reported clashes between rebel fighters and government troops in the northern Idlib province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one soldier was killed and that the army was raiding homes in nearby villages following the rebel capture of an intelligence officer.
The bodies of two Western journalists who were killed two weeks ago in a government rocket attack in Homs arrived in France. The body of French photographer Remi Ochlik would remain there, while that of American reporter Marie Colvin would be sent to the U.S., the French Foreign Ministry said.
China to send envoy
Meanwhile, China said on Monday it will send an envoy to Syria in a fresh bid to help staunch violence there that has divided Beijing from Western and Arab powers demanding stronger action to rein in Assad's forces.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Li Huaxin, the country's former ambassador to Syria, will visit there for two days from Tuesday, promoting a six-point plan that Beijing issued on the weekend as the basis of a solution to the violence.
While announcing ambassador Li's visit, the foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, sounded a somber warning about the fighting that has sent refugees spilling into Lebanon.
"Currently the situation in Syria continues to heat up and become more serious," Liu told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
China has also long been reluctant to back international intervention in domestic turmoil. That wariness was reignited last year when NATO forces cited a U.N. resolution to protect civilians in warring Libya as authority for an air bombing campaign that was crucial to eventually ousting Moammar Gadhafi.
China abstained that from Libya resolution, but later suggested NATO powers exceeded the U.N. mandate through their expanding bombing campaign.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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