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Suicide blast in southern Syria

Syrian forces have launched a fresh assault on Homs as the Red Cross pressed forward with efforts to deliver badly needed aid to thousands of people stranded in a besieged neighbourhood despite warnings from regime troops of land mines and booby traps.

Two days after they fought their way into the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, government forces shelled several other neighbourhoods of the city, the country's third largest with about one million people.

They included districts where many of Baba Amr's residents had fled, activists said.

The Syrian regime has said it was fighting "armed gangs" in Baba Amr, which has become a symbol of the nearly year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. The revolt has killed more than 7,500 people, according to the UN

The Local Coordination Committees activist network said mortars slammed into the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader.

Conditions in Baba Amr are believed to be dire, with extended power outages, shortages of food and water, and lack of medical care. Syrian government forces took control of the neighbourhood on Thursday after rebels fled the district under constant bombardment that activists said had killed hundreds of people since early February.

The Red Cross said the regime blocked its entry to Baba Amr yesterday, one day after the group received government permission to enter with a convoy of seven trucks carrying 15 tons of humanitarian aid including food, medical supplies and blankets.

"We are still in negotiations to enter Baba Amr," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said today in Geneva.

The Syrians said they were not letting the Red Cross into Baba Amr because of safety concerns, including land mines, Mr Hassan said, adding the organisation had not been able to verify the danger. The government has not offered an official explanation.

"It's important that we get in today," Mr Hassan said. "We are not about to give up."

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