On Tuesday night the city was under massive continuous bombardment, witnesses told the Guardian, with rockets raining down from the sky every few minutes, and helicopters and fighter planes circling overhead. They said Syrian army tanks had encircled opposition-held suburbs, in preparation for what they feared was a final, deadly ground assault…

Rabea described how government forces began a pincer movement against the city 10 days ago. He said soldiers slaughtered three families living on the edge of the Karm al-Zayton district, apparently to send a message to opposition forces who have been holding out against the regime since last year.

“It started with a massacre. Trucks of soldiers pulled up. They executed the women and men inside the house and stabbed the children with knives. They killed four members of the Bahader family, 11 from the A’kra family and six from the al-Muhammad family on 26 January,” Rabea – who lives in the district – said. [The Guardian was unable to independently verify the report.]

Days later, [according to Rabea,] the bombardment began.