Damage in Homs, March 9 2012
Damage in Homs, March 9 2012Reuters

Syrian forces again shelled the flashpoint central city of Homs on Monday, killing at least eight and setting several homes ablaze.

Local human rights activists say government shells struck several parts of Homs on Monday as part of a now daily assault on remaining centers of resistance in the city.

Last month, security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs after 26 straight days of shelling that claimed no fewer than 700 lives.

Indiscriminate shelling of rebel held towns across Syria has become increasingly common as human rights activists say the death toll in Assad's bloody crackdown on protests against his autocratic 11 year rule tops 10,000.

As the popular uprising in Syria enters its thirteenth month, reports of war crimes by Assad forces including the systemic rape, torture, and mass execution of civilians in fallen rebel strongholds have emerged.

Assad faces a growing insurgency by at least 20,000 army defectors armed as light infantry who have coalesced under the leadership of the Free Syria Army. In the absence of heavy arms, FSA troops have focused on deadly ambushes and hit-and-run raids.

Assad forces launched a major offensive on rebel strongholds in recent months, dealing heavy blows to the FSA in Deraaa, Hama, Homs, Idlib, and Rastan and leading many to assume Assad's position in unassailable.

However, a series of counter-attacks last week by the FSA in Damscus commensurate with reports of Saudi Arabia deciding to arm the movement has cracked Assad's veneer of seeming invincibility.

A spokesman for UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan said Monday that the Syrian government has formally responded to the envoy's peace plan for the country. Ahmad Fawzi said Annan was studying the Syrian response and would respond “very shortly.”

Annan presented the plan to Assad in Damascus earlier this month and obtained international support for it in a UN Security Council statement adopted last week.

Annan's proposals call on Syrian government forces and rebels to agree on a cease-fire and engage in dialogue. The plan does not include a Western and Arab demand for Assad to resign — a demand that Russia and China oppose.