Government tanks pounded neighbourhoods of Homs on Monday, killing more than 30 people, city residents said, as Arab officials arrived in Syria to monitor compliance with a peace plan aimed at ending the crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Fifty monitors and 10 other officials from the Arab League arrived from Egypt on a private plane, the first international intervention on the ground to end nine months of violence between government troops and opponents of Assad.

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Some monitors are due on Tuesday to visit Homs, scene of the worst violence, where there has been no sign of Assad carrying out a plan agreed with the Arab League to halt his offensive.

Amateur video posted on the Internet by activists showed tanks in the streets next to apartment blocks in the Baba Amr district. One fired its main gun and another appeared to launch mortar rounds.

Mangled bodies lay in pools of blood on a narrow street, the video showed. Power lines had collapsed and cars were burnt and blasted, as if shelled by tank or mortar rounds.

"What's happening is a slaughter," said Fadi, a resident living near the flashpoint Baba Amr neighborhood. He said it was being hit with mortar shells and heavy machinegun fire.

An armed insurgency is increasingly eclipsing civilian protests in Syria. Now many fear a slide toward a sectarian war pitting the Sunni Muslim majority, the driving force of the protest movement, against minorities that have mostly stayed loyal to the government, particularly the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs. Fighting in Homs has intensified since a double suicide bombing in Damascus on Friday that killed 44 people.

Four army defectors were killed by security forces in a town near the Turkish border on Monday, an activist network said. Nine soldiers killed in fighting in Homs were buried, state media reported.

Homs resident Fadi told Reuters via Skype that residents and fighters were trapped by trenches the army had dug around the neighborhood in recent weeks.

"They are benefiting from trenches. Neither the people nor the gunmen or army defectors are able to flee. The army has been descending on the area for the past two days."

Other residents said the fighters have still been able to inflict casualties on the army.

"The violence is definitely two-sided," said a Homs resident who gave his name only as Mohammed to protect his safety. "I've been seeing ambulances filled with wounded soldiers passing by my window in the past days. They're getting shot somehow."

Parts of Homs are defended by the Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors from the regular armed forces, who say they have tried to protect civilians.

"There are many casualties," activist Yazen Homsi told the Avaaz opposition group from Homs. "It is very difficult to access them and provide treatment as a result of the heavy shelling throughout the neighborhood."

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented names of those reported killed in Monday's clashes. It also reported three people killed on the outskirts of Hama, north of Homs, as security forces fired on protests.

It said explosions went off in Douma, a Damascus suburb, as the army clashed with rebel fighters. In a town near the Turkish border, four army defectors were killed by security forces, it Observatory reported.

The Syrian government has banned most access by independent media, making it difficult to verify accounts of events.

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