Syrian artillery pounded rebel-held areas of Homs as President Bashar al-Assad's government announced that voters had overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a referendum.

The country's Interior Minister announced that almost 90% of voters have approved Syria's new constitution brought in after 11 months of anti-regime protests.

Mohammed al-Shaar also told a press conference that turnout reached 57.4% of eligible voters, with 89.4% of the 8.376 million who cast their ballots in Sunday's referendum saying "yes" to the new constitution.

The reformed constitution could keep President Assad in power until 2028.

The opposition had called for a boycott of the referendum, while the United States described it as "laughable."

Attempted aid deliveries and evacuations

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs and is attempting to deliver medical supplies and evacuate people needing attention.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Syrian volunteers had brought in medical supplies, mainly kits for treating the wounded. Three wounded Syrians were also evacuated.

"They have been able to evacuate three persons, including an aged woman, a pregnant woman and her husband," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters in Geneva.

However efforts to evacuate foreign journalists from the Baba Amr district failed.

"Neither the foreign journalists nor the bodies of the (dead) journalists were evacuated for reasons we are not aware of," he said.

Mr Hassan said that the security situation remained very tense, and communications were difficult.

Voting and Violence

At least 59 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed in the country's bitter political violence yesterday, the same day as the vote on a new constitution.

Mr Assad's reforms drop an article making his Ba'ath party the leader of state and society, allow political pluralism and enact a presidential limit of two seven-year terms.

But the limit will not be enforced retrospectively, meaning that Mr Assad, already in power for 11 years, could serve another two terms after his current one expires in 2014.

A multi-party parliamentary election will be held in three months.

EU agrees new sanctions

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed new sanctions against Syria in order to maintain pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The measures include a ban on trading in gold and other precious metals and a ban on cargo flights from Syria.

However, Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said any move to arm the Syrian opposition could trigger a prolonged civil war.

The EU has already imposed a ban on oil imports and placed restrictions on over 100 members of the Assad regime.

Today's announcement shows that the West may be limited on how many sanctions they can impose, even if existing restrictions are putting serious pressure on the Syrian economy.

Seven more cabinet ministers have been placed on a travel blacklist, while the central bank has been targeted in order to freeze the regime's assets.

Cargo planes will be prevented from landing, but flights with passengers on board will be given safe passage.

The international community remains divided on whether to arm the Syrian opposition.

Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar want more robust support for opposition groups, but the Tánaiste today said arming rebels could provoke a long, drawn out and bloody civil war.

That prospect was echoed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who suggested that opposition groups were not as united as they were in Libya.

Russia has once again warned against military intervention.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said:"We cannot stand aside and allow what is happening in Syria.

"The situation there is appalling, with over 8,000 people killed, 70,000 in detention and up to three million people in need of food, medical and other humanitarian assistance. I strongly urged the EU to step up diplomatic and political pressure on Syria.

"I welcome the decision to impose new EU sanctions. These are designed to maintain pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence.

"We need to have a cessation of the hostilities in order to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and to allow the UN-Arab League's special envoy Kofi Annan to continue his work to implement the Arab League's peace plan."