Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki heads to Russia to promote bilateral political and economic relations, as the crisis in Syria looms large over talks between two states accused of helping prop up Syria’s embattled Assad.
Maliki’s two-day official visit came in response to an invitation by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two countries have continuously called for a political solution to the conflict, and have avoided pushing Assad openly to give up power and put an end to a conflict that has left 31,000 dead as Western and Arab powers have argued for.
Maliki’s visit comes amid intensified shelling of rebel-held areas of the city Homs by Syrian military, activists say, with reports of aerial and ground bombardment elsewhere in the country.
Aircraft and artillery targeted the neighbourhood of Khaldiya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as videos posted online appeared to show barrels of TNT explosives being dropped on the besieged areas, according to Al Jazeera.
Opposition strongholds in Homs have been under siege for at least 120 days, reports Al Jazeera, with humanitarian conditions continuing to deteriorate.
Syrian government troops had subjected Homs to months of heavy bombardment until April, after which the focus of the violence shifted to other cities.
The northern province of Aleppo, eastern Deir Ezzor province and northwestern Idlib province also witnessed clashes between President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and opposition fighters on Monday, activists reported.
The latest reports of the violence in the country came as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Monday of a “dangerous’ fallout from spiralling violence along the Syrian-Turkish border at the opening of the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France, AFP reports.
The armed Syrian conflict has increasingly sparked violence on the Syria’s border with Turkey, with the Turkish military returning fire on Sunday after a shell launched from Syria struck the border village of Akcakale.