DAMASCUS - As thousands rallied in Syrian streets after the weekly Friday prayers on December 9, the country's opposition warned of a looming massacre, saying that thousands of regime forces and militiamen have encircled the protest hub of Homs for an expected final assault to crush the protest movement.
The regime (is) paving the way to commit a massacre in order to extinguish the revolution in Homs, central Syria, said the Syrian National Council, a principle umbrella group drawing together Assad's opponents, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
SNC said President Bashar al-Assad's regime was using the pretext of what it called a terrorist attack on an oil pipeline to overrun Homs, which has already been besieged for months.
Homs, an important junction city of 1.6 million residents mainly divided along confessional lines, is a tinderbox of sectarian tensions that the SNC said the regime was trying to exploit.
The regime has tried hard to ignite the sectarian conflict using many dirty methods, which have included bombing and burning mosques, torturing and killing young men, and kidnapping women and children, said the SNC.
The regime also took a significant step... in burning oil pipelines in the neighborhood of Baba Amr to blame what the regime calls 'armed gangs' in an attempt to crush the peaceful uprising on the pretext of a war on terrorism.
Witnesses on the ground confirmed SNC warning, reporting a buildup of troops and pro-regime Shabiha militiamen in armored vehicles who have set up more than 60 checkpoints.
These are all signs of a security crackdown operation that may reach the level of a total invasion of the city, said the opposition group.
We warn of the consequences of committing such a crime that could result in a massive number of casualties, said the SNC.
We hold accountable the regime, and behind it the Arab League and the international community of what could happen to innocent civilians in the next few hours or days.
Peaceful protests against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, were met with massive force as soon as they began in March.
The Assad regime's crackdown on dissent has hit Homs particularly hard and activists say a great number of defecting soldiers have set up camp there to protect protesters.
The regime's crackdown on dissent has killed more than 4,000 people in Syria, according to UN figures.
A Senior UN official called on Syria government to allow United Nations humanitarian relief teams to assess the predicament of its people, Reuters reported.
I repeat my call to the Syrian government to really let us in, said Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief.
We are concerned about the health impact of what is going on. We don't have a very clear picture across the country because we do not have the access that will enable us to know exactly what is going on, she told reporters in Stockholm.
If, as the government say, they have nothing to hide, then I think allowing us in to see that that is the case and to do a proper assessment of what the implications of this are for the people of Syria is absolutely critical, Amos said.
She said the United Nations did not have the data to assess whether or not humanitarian corridors or buffer zones, as proposed by some concerned states, would be helpful.
If we don't know where the needs are, where are we going to set up possible humanitarian corridors or buffer zones?
In another international effort, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is due to address the Syria crisis on Friday and is expected to brief the UN Security Council by Tuesday at the request of France, Britain and German, diplomats said.
It will be useful because it will allow the Security Council to examine its own responsibilities in the crisis, said a UN diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also called on Friday on Assad to punish those behind the killings of anti-regime protesters.
If he is now sincere, he will immediately punish murderers, accept Arab League observers, he said.
Another effort was made by the Arab League, leaning on Iraq to persuade Syria to allow observers or else face more sanctions.
Last month, the Arab League has threatened to impose sanctions on Syria unless armed forces are verifiably withdrawn from towns and cities and a political dialogue is opened with opposition representatives.
Turkey, formerly a key Syria ally, imposed a 30 percent duty on imports from Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for a similar tax imposed on Turkish goods.