Syrian tanks pounded an old district in Homs on Saturday in one of the heaviest barrages since the military intensified an assault on the central city two weeks ago to crush protests and a nascent insurgency, residents said.

Several army deserters took refuge in the district of Bab Amro the day before, adding to hundreds who had already defected, they said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said initial reports indicated that one person was killed and at least five injured in the attack.

The tanks were firing anti-aircraft guns, which the military is using to hit ground targets, and heavy machineguns, residents and activists said. A Youtube video purportedly showed at least one building on fire.

The Syrian human rights group Sawasiah said the military assault on Homs had killed at least 300 civilians in the last 10 days, with 30,000 inhabitants arrested since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and his family's 41 year rule erupted in March.

Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, has repeatedly said he was using legitimate means to confront foreign-backed militants bent on fomenting sectarian strife. Syria is mostly Sunni Muslim.

The authorities say the military operation is designed to cleanse Homs of armed terrorist groups. The authorities have banned independent media from Homs and the rest of the country, making independent confirmation of events impossible.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)