After being kept out for days by Syrian forces, a Red Cross team will try to distribute much-needed aid to residents on Monday in Baba Amr, a war-battered neighbourhood in the central Syrian city of Homs, group officials said.

Fears that thousands of civilians in the Baba Amr neighbourhood are suffering from severe cold and hunger have been mounting since government forces seized the district from rebels last week. Before its capture, the district was under siege for weeks and near constant shelling killed hundreds of people, activists said.

300-syria-rtr2yqxt-1

Demonstrators hold a banner that reads, Demand international protection and humanitarian aid during a protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad after Friday prayers in Al Qusour, Homs. (Handout/Reuters)

The Syrian government said the Red Cross could go in after regime forces captured the area on Thursday, but troops on the ground denied Red Cross access, citing security concerns.

The head of the humanitarian group's local branch, the Syrian Red Crescent in Homs province, said Monday that aid teams would enter part of the area. Shueib Shaaban said authorities told the group it could enter all of Baba Amr on Tuesday and that the group was sending three trucks with aid for the neighbourhood.

In the past, it has said the greatest needs are food, medical supplies and blankets, due to frigid temperatures and snowfall.

Syrian refugees stream into Lebanon

Meanwhile, more than a thousand Syrian refugees have poured across the border into Lebanon to flee Syrian forces, among them families with small children carrying only plastic bags filled with their belongings. 

McCain urges airstrikes on Syria

U.S. Senator John McCain called on Monday for the U.S. to lead an "international effort" to protect Syrian civilians through airstrikes in key areas of unrest.

The Republican Arizona senator and former presidential candidate, who had previously also supported an air assault on Libya, said the airstrikes in Syria would be in defence of anti-government groups there organizing against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The UN refugee agency said Monday as many as 2,000 Syrians had crossed into Lebanon in the last two days. Associated Press reporters in one border village saw families crossing with only a few possessions.

"We fled the shelling and the strikes," said Hassana Abu Firas in Qaa in northeast Lebanon. She came with two families who had fled government shelling of their town al-Qusair, about 22 kilometres away on the other side of the Syrian border.

The violence in Homs has also sent many families fleeing into nearby neighbourhoods and villages. The Red Cross distributed milk powder, medicine, food and blankets on Sunday to some 400 displaced families in the Abel village south of the city, Shaaban said. That aid continued Monday.

The central city of Homs, Syria's third largest with one million residents, has emerged as a central battleground in the 11-month-old uprising against authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad. The uprising started in March 2011 with protests in some of the country's impoverished hinterlands.

UN-Arab League envoy to visit Damascus this week

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 UN says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the uprising. Activists place the number at more than 8,000.

The violence has fuelled increasing international condemnation of the Assad regime. The U.S. has called for him to step down, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he could be considered a war criminal. The European Union said it would document alleged 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 UN tribunal.

The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, will visit Damascus this week in what will be his first visit since being appointed to the post, according to a report.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby told reporters at the group's Cairo headquarters that Annan would visit Syria on March 10, Reuters reported.

"Kofi Annan told me that Syria will receive him on March 10 and that he would arrive in Cairo on March 7," Elaraby said.

Annan, a former UN secretary general, was appointed as envoy last month.

Canada to close its Syrian embassy

Canada said Monday it planned to close its embassy in Syria due to the ongoing violence and further expanded sanctions against the government regime.

The fresh round of sanctions included a complete ban on the provision or acquisition of financial or other related services, as well as sanctions on the Syrian central bank and seven high-ranking Syrian officials implicated in the violence, said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

"We must put concerted and intense international pressure on the regime to stop the violence and to allow a peaceful, Syrian-led transition," Baird said in a statement. "Those responsible for the violence across Syria must be held accountable for their actions. This is the sixth round of sanctions imposed upon the Assad regime. Our message remains clear: Assad must go."

Russia and China have stood by Assad, however, rejecting all forms of interference in Syria's affairs and protecting Syria from condemnation by the UN Security Council.

Syria on Monday lauded the return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, saying his "strong man" status would reshape international relations.

Homs battle zones


Mouse over the red circles to learn more about each neighbourhood.
Source: Wire reports and CBC News stories. Base map: Google