Damascus - The UN Security Council was to examine the future of its observer mission in violence-wracked Syria on Tuesday after a joint US-Russian call for an immediate end to the conflict.
The mission's leader Major General Robert Mood, whose 300 unarmed monitors suspended operations on Saturday because of escalating bloodshed, was to brief the Security Council.
With civilians trapped by regime shelling of rebel bastions such as the central city of Homs, Mood has urged the government and opposition to let "women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones".
And UN rights chief Navi Pillay has demanded a halt to government bombardment of populated areas. "Such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes," Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council.
US President Barack Obama and Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Monday called for an "immediate cessation of all violence".
"In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence," the two leaders said in a statement after meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Pledge to heal the conflict
"We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future," the leaders said.
Putin told reporters that he and Obama had found "many common points" on the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that monitors say has cost more than 14 400 lives.
Obama said he and Putin agreed on the need for a "political process" to halt the conflict and had pledged to work with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has crafted a largely-ignored six-point plan aimed at halting the bloodshed.
But there was little sign they had agreed on concrete means to end the conflict, following US frustration at Russia's blocking of Security Council moves against Assad.
The United States, Britain and France are working on a new UN Council resolution in which they want to threaten sanctions against Assad. But Russia, Syria's main international ally, and China have already blocked two resolutions.
Moscow news reports, meanwhile, said Russia is preparing to send two amphibious assault ships and marines to the Syrian port of Tartus where Russia has a naval base to ensure the safety of its nationals.
The amphibious warships, The Nikolai Filchenkov and The Tsezar Kunikov, are to be sent to Tartus with a "large" group of marines, Interfax news agency quoted an officer at Russian naval headquarters as saying.
There was no official confirmation of the report by Russian authorities.
The Tsezar Kunikov can carry 150 troops and armaments including tanks, while The Nikolai Filchenkov can carry up to 1 500 tons of cargo and equipment, the report said.
Interfax said the ships could be used to evacuate Russian nationals.
Syrian government forces on Monday pounded rebel strongholds in Homs and Damascus, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 94 people were killed across the country, including 63 civilians.
Government troops stepped up a siege of Tasas in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the anti-regime revolt, said the rebel Free Syrian Army, adding that the army broke into the south of Tasas and launched raids.
Plan in question
Clashes and shelling persisted in several areas of Damascus province, including the towns of Douma and Qudsaya which have been under bombardment for the past five days.
In New York, diplomats raised doubts about the viability of the observer mission.
"I think there will be a lot of member states of the council, including us, who will be questioning now what the future is for the mission and, therefore, by extension the Annan plan," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.