DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian government forces launched a heavy assault on Syria's third-largest city Friday night, killing more than 200 people and wounding hundreds as rockets crashed into neighborhoods and slammed into buildings that collapsed on terrified residents, according to activists.
If confirmed, the military assault on Homs would be the single deadliest attack of the 10-month-old uprising that has devastated the country.
The attack occurred on the eve of a U.N. Security Council vote on condemning the government's violent response to anti-regime protests.International outrage over the crackdown by the regime of President Bashar Assad has been swelling for months.
Military forces began to fire shells and rockets on the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh, a hotbed of protest, in the late evening, said activist Omar Shakir, speaking by telephone from the city. He said he heard hundreds of missiles strike the area.
The assault then spread to the Baba Amr and Bab al-Sebaa neighborhoods, with buildings crumbling on top of wailing residents. Shakir estimated that at least 220 people were dead and more than 700 injured.
It was not possible, he said, to take the injured to hospitals because roads were blocked by security forces. Armed pro-government gangs had taken injured and dead people from the al-Amal hospital near Khaldiyeh, apparently to remove evidence of the offensive, he said.
People were being treated in makeshift field hospitals, he said, but he feared that many with head and chest injuries would die.
Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said he had tallied the deaths in the city at 217 after speaking with residents. He added that Homs had been rocked by fighting between the Free Syrian Army armed opposition group and government forces before the assault began in the evening.
"From the 19 of March till now, this is the bloodiest day in Syria," he declared, referring to the start of the uprising against Assad's government.
It was not possible to independently confirm the casualty estimates or details of the attack on Homs, which is about 100 miles north of Damascus.
Dima Moussa, a U.S.-based Syrian American born in Homs, said she had spoken to several city residents, who described a scene of horror.
"At least four buildings have collapsed. There are still people under the rubble. It's the middle of the night; they can't get to them," said Moussa, a member of the Syrian National Council opposition group.
Moussa said the timing of the attack was significant. Opposition groups across the country had used their weekly Friday protests to commemorate the 30th anniversary of a notorious assault on an uprising in the city of Hama. At least 10,000 people were killed in that fighting, according to rights groups' reporting at the time, and the date was highly emotional for protesters.
The U.N. Security Council will meet this morning to take up a much-negotiated resolution on Syria, said a diplomat for a Western nation that sits on the council told the Associated Press.
The move toward a vote came after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an effort to overcome Russian opposition to any statement that explicitly calls for regime change or a military intervention in Syria.
The U.S. and its partners have ruled out military action but want the global body to endorse an Arab League plan that calls on Assad to hand power over to Syria's vice president.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said Friday that Moscow could not support the resolution in its current form. But he expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
In Washington on Friday night, dozens of protesters waving Syrian flags gathered outside the Syrian Embassy to protest the killings in Homs.