France and Italy have both recalled their ambassadors to Syria, as have Gulf Arab countries, but Russia has sent a special envoy to the embattled country, where violence between the government and rebels increased on Tuesday.

Syrian government forces launched mortars at the opposition stronghold of Homs on Tuesday while Russian Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov met with President Bashar al-Assad to try to work out a solution to end the violence. The United States and Britain pulled their embassy staff from Syria on Monday as the security situation there deteriorated, so Russia -- which blocked a U.N. resolution on Syria along with China last week -- is one of the last outside nations willing to have diplomatic contact with the Syrian regime.The latest from Lavrov's visit is that the Russian minister said Assad was ready to set a date for a constitutional referendum, Reuters reports via the Syrian Itar-Tass news agency. Lavrov says Assad's committed to ending the violence in Syria, but since Assad's forces were shelling Homs at the very moment he said that, it's kind of hard to believe.