DAMASCUS // International investigators yesterday gave the United Nations a list of Syrian officials, including Pesident Bashar Al Assad, suspected of crimes against humanity, as a defiant regime brushed off an outcry over the deaths of two journalists.
Activists spoke of terrifying explosions in the city of Homs as encircling troops pounded rebel areas for a 20th consecutive day, after the American reporter Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed in the city on Wednesday.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said their deaths were murder and "those who did this will have to account for it".
The President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, received a telephone call from Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, yesterday to discuss the Syrian crisis.
In their report, an international panel of investigators commissioned by the UN said they had given a list of Syrian military and political officials suspected of crimes against humanity to the organisation's top human rights official.
"The commission has deposited with the High Commissioner [for human rights, Navi Pillay] a comprehensive database containing all evidence collected," said the panel.
"Consistent with its mandate, the commission endeavoured, where possible, to identify those responsible with a view to ensuring the perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable," added the inquiry, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council.
The panel documented a widespread and systemic pattern of gross violations committed by Syrian forces "in conditions of impunity" since last March when the uprising against Mr Assad's regime erupted.
The report said Syria's government had failed to protect its people, but also said it had found instances of gross abuses by rebel fighters, many of them army defectors.
The commission recommended a political dialogue between the government and opposition groups.
Both sides should "negotiate an end to the violence, to ensure respect for human rights and to address the legitimate demands of the Syrian people", it said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group, says more than 7,600 have been killed in the 11 months since the uprising began. The government says more than 2,000 of its security forces have also died.
Nine people, including five soldiers, were killed yesterday, the Britain-based Observatory and state media said.
The morning bombardment of Homs - Syria's third-largest city - centred on the Baba Amr neighbourhood, where the two journalists were killed, the monitors said. "Baba Amr, as well as parts of Inshaat, have been shelled since 7am, while mortar rounds slammed into the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.
The activist Hadi Abdullah said from inside the city: "We hear terrifying explosions."
He said the world outcry over the deaths of the journalists and 24 Syrian civilians in Homs on Wednesday appeared only to have strengthened the regime's determination to eliminate all opposition in the city.
"The more the condemnations pile on, the heavier the bombing becomes," he said.
Mr Abdullah said there was evidence the makeshift media centre where the journalists were killed and two others wounded was deliberately targeted by government forces.
"We are sure that the centre was targeted, because 11 rockets struck in and around it," he said.
"The regime forces intercepted a transmission signal."
The Syrian government did not deny firing the fatal rounds.
"We reject statements holding Syria responsible for the deaths of journalists who sneaked into its territory at their own risk," said a foreign ministry statement read out on state television.
The ministry urged journalists to "respect laws of journalistic work in Syria and avoid breaking the law by entering the country illegally to reach trouble-hit areas that are unsafe".
Efforts were under way to evacuate two other western journalists who were wounded - Edith Bouvier, a reporter for French daily Le Figaro, and Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy.
The British Foreign Office said yesterday Mr Conroy was on his way out of the besieged city, while Ms Bouvier appeared in a video posted online asking to be evacuated quickly saying she needed urgent medical attention.
Syria's information minister, Adnan Mahmud, said later the Homs' governor had been instructed to exert every effort evacuate the journalists.
Meanwhile, a US official said Arab and western powers would challenge Syria's government to accept a proposal to allow in humanitarian aid at a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunis today.
The move comes two days after the International Committee of the Red Cross called for a daily truce of two hours in Syria so it can deliver vital aid to afflicted areas.
Beijing and Moscow have said they will not attend the Tunis meeting.
Russia and China, which vetoed two UN resolutions over the crackdown, reaffirmed their opposition to foreign intervention in Syria and urged talks with the regime.
And Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Mr Al Assad's regime would not fall and Tehran "supports the Syrian government and will oppose those who act against Syria".