A British photographer and French journalist wounded in an attack in Syria that killed Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik have appealed to be evacuated for urgent medical attention.
Paul Conroy, who works for the same newspaper as Ms Colvin, and Edith Bouvier, suffered leg injuries after a rocket struck the makeshift media centre in Homs in which they were staying.
The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the deaths of the two foreign journalists, as Foreign Secretary William Hague ruled out the possibility of military intervention.
Mr Conroy and Ms Bouvier spoke on videos – reportedly posted online by opposition activists.
They are still thought to be in the Babr Amr district of Homs – which has come under intense bombardment from government forces.
Talking to the camera, Ms Bouvier said: “I have a broken leg. I need an operation urgently. Doctors are treating us very well to the best of their ability but they cannot do an operation.
“I need a ceasefire in place as soon as possible – a medicalised vehicle or at least one in good shape that can take us to Lebanon to be treated.”
In a separate video, Mr Conroy said: “I was wounded in a rocket attack – three large wounds to my leg. I am being looked after by the Free Syria Army medical staff who are treating me with the best medical treatment available.
“It is important to say I am here as a guest and not captured.
“Any assistance that can be given by different agencies would be welcome. Any help possible. I would reassure family and friends in England that I am absolutely OK.”
The Syrian foreign ministry said Ms Colvin and Mr Ochlik , “sneaked” into the country, and were there illegally.
“We reject statements holding Syria responsible for the deaths of journalists who sneaked into its territory at their own risk,” said a ministry statement read out on state television.
Activist Hadi Abdullah, a member of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution, said it was clear the government was responsible.
“We are sure that the centre was targeted, because 11 rockets struck in and around it,” he said.
“The regime forces intercepted a transmission signal,” he added.
Following the denial, the UN issued a report accusing Syria of crimes against humanity, performed under orders from “the highest levels” of the army and government.
The report, published by the international body’s human rights council, could pave the way for President Assad himself to be charged formally for crimes against humanity.
It said that “widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations” had been committed by the Assad regime, and that while opposition groups were guilty of some abuses, their crimes were “not comparable in scale”.
The report detailed cases of mass executions, including one incident where over 100 bodies – thought to be those of army defectors – were found just before Christmas, some inside a village mosque.
The report also includes a confidential list of commanding officers and senior officials who appear responsible for international crimes.
It is thought over 70,000 people have been internally displaced since the start of the crisis, with a further 20,000 seeking refuge abroad.
While political discussions continue, the regime has stepped up its assault on Homs and armoured tank divisions have moved into the restive Baba Amr neighbourhood for the first time since the current onslaught began 20 days ago.
“We hear terrifying explosions,” Mr Abdullah continued.
He said that the international outcry over Wednesday’s deaths appeared only to have strengthened the regime’s determination to eliminate all opposition in the city.
“The more the condemnations pile on, the heavier the bombing becomes,” he said.
Communications in the city have been cut off regularly as the crackdown has intensified over recent months, but Mr Abdullah said that activists had now been left virtually totally isolated as even satellite signals were being intercepted.
Homs activist Omar Shakir said food, water and medical supplies are running dangerously low in Baba Amr, which has sustained some of the most ferocious attacks in recent months.
“Every minute counts. People will soon start to collapse from lack of sleep and shortages in food,” he said.
Meanwhile, William Hague said addressing the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country should be the international community’s priority, rather than military intervention.
Mr Hague, speaking at Thursday’s major conference on Somalia which is being held in London, said he would be discussing how best to intensify the economic and diplomatic “stranglehold” on Syria at an upcoming Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia.
He went on to rule out military action against Syria, which would be “much more complicated and would have to be on a much greater scale than in Libya,” which made it “not something we’re likely to embark on”.
But he added: “Clearly the economic measures that we are adopting make life much more difficult for the Assad regime. We have cut off a quarter of their revenues, for instance, by stopping all oil imports to Europe.”