DAMASCUS, Syria, June 17 (UPI) -- The Russian government Sunday denied reports it sent a fully loaded warship to supply the Syrian government with weapons and troops.
Ukraine media reports suggested the amphibious vessel Nikolai Filchenkov, loaded with armaments and soldiers, was sailing from a Crimean port to Damascus, but a government source told RIA Novosti that was false.
"There are no marines aboard the ship and there were no commands for a voyage towards Syria," the source told the Russian news agency.
Moscow has sided with the government of President Bashar Assad's since anti-government protests began 15 months ago amid international condemnation of the military crackdown on demonstrators.
In recent days, the armed conflict has escalated and the United Nations Saturday announced it was withdrawing about 300 unarmed observers.
The London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights said it and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies had documented 53 casualties across the country Sunday. The deaths included 19 in the Damascus area and 13 in homes.
In Homs, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city and a hotbed of anti-government sentiment, activist Abu Imad told al-Bawaba Sunday was a violent day.
"About 85 percent of Homs is now suffering from mortar shelling or firing of heavy machine guns," he said.
Various reports from rights groups and international organizations say at least 10,000 civilians have been killed in what's bordering on a civil war.