DAMASCUS - Syrian artillery gunners turned their sights on the rebel city of Rastan, killing seven civilians, monitors said, as the Red Cross delivered aid Sunday to refugees from the battered Baba Amr quarter nearby.

The aid distribution came as relief agencies waited for a third straight day for the go-ahead to enter Baba Amr, where hundreds of people are reported to have been killed and even more wounded in an almost month-long shelling blitz.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shelling of Rastan killed seven people, including four children, when a house was hit. “Since dawn, the positions of deserters in the north of Rastan have been subject to intensive shelling,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP.

Rebel fighters on February 5 declared Rastan “liberated” from President Bashar al-Assad’s control, but since Homs was overrun by regime forces on Thursday, army deserters have been braced for an onslaught on Rastan and Qusayr, also near Homs.

Rastan is a strategic city as, like Homs, it falls on the main road linking Damascus with northern Syria.

The Observatory had on Friday reported 12 civilians, including five children, killed when a rocket slammed into a crowd of protesters in Rastan.

The latest deaths in Rastan raised to at least 10 the number of civilians killed across Syria on Sunday, according to the Observatory which also reported that a soldier was killed in the northeast province of Idlib.

AFP was not immediately able to verify the Observatory’s reports due to restrictions on foreign journalists in Syria.

The rebels fled the Baba Amr section of Homs on Thursday in the face of a ground assault by regime forces following a shelling blitz since early February that the US-based Human Rights Watch said had killed some 700 people.

HRW said shells sometimes fell in Baba Amr at a rate of 100 an hour and that satellite images showed 640 buildings visibly damaged, but stressed that the real picture could be worse.