Ben Hubbard

BEIRUT: A Syrian activist group reported Monday that 144 people have been killed across the country, scores of them in the embattled opposition stronghold of Homs by security forces as they tried to flee. A team from the Syrian arm of the Red Cross delivered aid to one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods after days of trying to reach the area.

The activist group did not say whether all 144 died on Monday or were killed over the past few days. Many of the casualties were believed to be from the rebel-controlled Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which the Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered late Monday. Also in the neighborhood are two wounded foreign journalists along with the bodies of two of their colleagues who were killed last week.

European and American diplomats and aid workers have been trying desperately to find a way to evacuate them, but Red Cross spokeswoman Carla Haddad said late Monday that the Red Crescent had not managed to get them out. She did not know whether the group had stopped trying for the evening.

Homs has emerged as the center of the 11-month-old uprising seeking to oust authoritarian President Bashar Assad and has borne the brunt of his regime’s bloody crackdown on dissent. Parts of the city have been surrounded for weeks, making it impossible for rescue workers to reach the wounded and for families to bring their dead and injured to the hospital.

Reports by numerous activists that more than 60 bodies were brought to the hospital, all of whom appeared to have died in one incident, reflect the spreading carnage.

The high death toll reported by the Local Coordination Committees activist group is sure to add to the growing international pressure on Assad to give up power. But so far, his regime has shown no signs that it is ready to leave peacefully.

Syrian officials announced the results of a referendum on a new constitution held Sunday that Syrian authorities lauded as a step toward political reform.

The referendum allows at least in theory for opening the country’s political system. It approves a new constitution, which allows for a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the Baath party since it took power in a coup in 1963. Assad’s father, Hafez, took power in another coup in 1970.

It also imposes a limit of two seven-year terms on the president, meaning Assad could remain legally in power through 2028.

The U.S. and its allies dismissed the vote as a “farce” meant to justify the regime’s bloody crackdown on dissent. Syria’s main opposition groups boycotted the vote, and violence elsewhere prevented polling.

Syrian state TV said 89 percent of eligible voters approved the new document, while nine percent rejected it. It put turnout at 57 percent of Syria’s 14.9 million eligible voters.