Syria prepares to 'cleanse' rebels The Syrian regime has shown a new determination to crush its opponents, vowing to "cleanse" a rebel-held district in the besieged city of Homs after nearly four weeks of shelling. Government troops massed outside the embattled neighbourhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists who have been under heavy bombardment. A Spanish journalist who had been stuck in the area escaped Wednesday to Lebanon, the second foreign reporter to do so since a government rocket attack last week killed two of his colleagues and wounded two others. The fate of the foreign journalists has drawn attention to Homs, which has emerged as a key battleground between government forces and those seeking to end the regime of the authoritarian President Bashar Assad. The government's increasingly bloody attempts to put down the 11-month uprising have fuelled mounting international criticism. The US State Department's top diplomat for the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, expressed his "outrage over the month-long campaign of brutality and indiscriminate shelling" in Homs. Meanwhile, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Syria had not yet agreed to allow her to into the country. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, called that refusal "shameful". "Rather than meeting the needs of its people, the barbaric Syrian government is preparing its final assault on the city of Homs," Ms Rice said. "Meanwhile, food shortages are reported to be so severe that people, especially children, will soon start dying of hunger." The UN estimates that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011, when protesters inspired by successful Arab Spring uprisings against dictators in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in Syria. Heightening fears of greater carnage, a Syrian official said the government was planning a major offensive against the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr. He said: "Baba Amr will be under control complete control in the coming hours and we'll cleanse all the armed elements from the area." Activists reported heavy shelling throughout Homs, raising concern that the government was preparing a ground invasion to take back the city.