(Reuters) - Syrian forces bombarded parts of the shattered city of Homs anew on Saturday and blocked the first Red Cross aid meant for civilians stranded for weeks without food and fuel in the former rebel stronghold, activists and aid workers said.
The renewed government assault came a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had received "grisly reports" that President Bashar al-Assad's troops were executing, imprisoning and torturing people in Syria's third largest city.
"In an act of pure revenge, Assad's army has been firing mortar rounds and ... machine guns since this morning at Jobar," said the Syrian Network for Human Rights, naming a neighborhood adjacent to Baba Amro, from which Free Syrian Army rebels pulled out this week after almost a month of siege and shelling.
"We have no immediate reports of casualties because of the difficulty of communications," it said in a statement.
Concern was mounting for civilians in freezing conditions in battered Baba Amro, where International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) trucks were still being held up by Assad's forces.
Anti-government activists said they feared troops were keeping out the ICRC to prevent aid workers witnessing a reported massacre of rebels in Baba Amro, which had become a symbol of a year-long uprising against Assad's repressive rule.
"The ICRC and Syrian Red Crescent are not yet in Baba Amro today. We are still in negotiations with authorities in order to enter Baba Amro. It is important that we enter today," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters in Geneva.
A Damascus-based ICRC spokesman said Syrian authorities had given the convoy permission to enter but that government forces on the ground had stopped the trucks because of what they said were unsafe conditions, including "mines and booby traps."
"There has been fighting there for at least a month. The situation cannot be good. They will need food, it's cold, they will need blankets. And there are injured there that need to be evacuated immediately," Saleh Dabbakeh told Reuters.
Elsewhere in Syria, anti-Assad activists reported mass arrests and the killing of six soldiers, while the government's SANA news agency reported a suicide car bombing in the southern town of Deraa, a blast activists denied was a suicide attack.
FOOTAGE OF WRECKED CITY
Syrian state television conducted interviews with unnamed civilians in what it said was Baba Amro, against a backdrop of empty streets, some with heavy conflict damage.
"Anyone who went out on the street was kidnapped or slaughtered. We called for the army to come in. God bless the army, they saved us from the armed terrorist gangs," said one interviewee, referring to the Free Syrian Army rebels.
In unusually tough remarks to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Ban explicitly blamed Damascus for the fate of civilians in the conflict.
"The brutal fighting has trapped civilians in their homes, without food, heat or electricity or medical care, without any chance of evacuating the wounded or burying the dead. People have been reduced to melting snow for drinking water," he said.
"This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people."
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, said Ban's comments included "extremely virulent rhetoric which confines itself to slandering a government based on reports, opinions or hearsay."
SANA said the bomber in Deraa killed two people and wounded 20 others, while residents said seven people had been killed.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said anti-Assad fighters had killed six soldiers and wounded nine in the town of al-Herak, south of Deraa.
In the Damascus suburb of Qudsiya, activists said hundreds of security forces personnel had arrested at least 30 people, destroyed vehicles and burned at least one home.
A fighter with the rebels, whose ranks include defectors from Assad's army, said they were planning their next steps after losing Baba Amro.
"Our morale, praise God, is high. We do not say we are sorry when someone is martyred, we all hope for this, and for the fall of the regime," said the rebel fighter who declined to be named.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government was again seeking to have the U.N. Security Council tackle the Syrian crisis. "This means working with other countries such as Russia and China that have blocked previous initiatives," he told Sky News.
"We will go on arguing for ... for the international community to pull together. Because the denial of humanitarian aid on top of all the murder, torture and repression in Syria just underlines what a criminal regime this has become."
Russia and China twice vetoed council resolutions that would have condemned Damascus and demanded it halt the crackdown on anti-Assad demonstrators, accusing Western and Arab nations of pushing for Libya-style "regime change" in Syria.
The United States is drafting a legally binding council resolution that would call for aid workers to be allowed into besieged towns and an end to the violence, U.N. envoys said.
JOURNALISTS' BODIES HANDED OVER
Wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, who escaped Homs earlier this week, said on Friday he had witnessed Syrian troops carrying out a massacre in heavily-shelled Baba Amro.
"I've worked in many war zones - I've never seen or been in shelling like this," the Sunday Times photographer told Sky News from a hospital bed in central London.
"I'm an ex-artillery gunner so I can kind of follow the patterns - they are systematically moving through neighborhoods with munitions that are used for battlefields.
"It's not a war, it's a massacre, an indiscriminate massacre of men, woman and children."
Western diplomats on Saturday received the bodies of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, who were killed on February 22 during a shelling of Baba Amro. A Reuters witness said the diplomats, believed to be the French ambassador to Syria and a representative from the Polish embassy, which is managing U.S. affairs in Syria, had taken the bodies from the Al-Assad University Hospital in Damascus.
The Syrian government said on Friday it would like to express its "sadness and sorrow" at the death of Colvin, Conroy's colleague at London's Sunday Times.
The Paris prosecutor's office said it had opened a preliminary investigation for murder and attempted murder into the bombing that killed Ochlik and seriously wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier.
The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt began last March. Syria's government said in December that "armed terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest.