Blasts shake Homs, Syria rebels hit back
Beirut - Blasts rocked the flashpoint city of Homs on Sunday as Syria's regime pressed its assault on protest hubs, while rebels staged a dawn attack on a military base in Damascus province, activists and monitors said.
There was "heavy shelling of Khaldiyeh, Hamidiyeh and Old Homs neighbourhoods by the regime's army, and explosions shook the whole city," the Local Co-ordination Committees said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said in a statement that four civilians were killed by security force fire in the Homs area.
Three, including an infant, died in Homs itself, while the fourth - a young girl - was killed in Rastan by heavy machine gun fire. The Britain-based monitoring group also said a member of the security forces was killed in Homs city.
In the city of Hama to the north, the Observatory reported that army shelling killed one civilian in the Murk district.
And in the southern town of Nawa, "tanks have entered the main streets, and heavy gunfire by regime forces is reported", said the LCC, the main opposition activist group in Syria. Five troops and three mutinous soldiers were killed.
LCC activist Luai Rushod in Nawa spoke of "a large number of defections by soldiers in the the southern part of Nawa, followed by clashes and troops committing barbaric murders".
Nawa is in the southern Daraa province, where the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's iron-fisted rule erupted in March 2011. Monitors say at least 9 100 people have been killed since then.
The Observatory said an explosion also hit a bridge in the Daraa region of Lajat where many army deserters are reported to be.
Houses burnt down
In the north, near the border with Turkey, rockets were fired into the town of Aazaz as helicopters flew overhead, the LCC said in a statement sent to AFP in Beirut.
It added that rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army blocked a highway used by the military for reinforcements and supplies to Aazaz, the scene of fierce clashes for the past few weeks.
Two deserters were killed in fighting at Aazaz with government forces using heavy machine guns and mortars, it said.
In the northwest province of Idlib, security forces killed one civilian and wounded two seriously in the town of Saraqeb, and also burned down the houses of dozens of militants.
"Deserters have begun pulling out of Saraqeb," said the Observatory, which also reported fighting in the town of Ariha to the west.
Human Rights Watch on Sunday accused regime forces of using civilians as human shields to march in front of them as they advanced on opposition-controlled towns in Idlib.
"By using civilians as human shields, the Syrian army is showing blatant disregard for their safety," HRW emergencies researcher Ole Solvang said in a statement. "The Syrian army should immediately stop this abhorrent practice."
In Damascus province, rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades in a dawn attack on a military facility in Nabak, said the Observatory.
Mohammed al-Shami, an activist, said fighting erupted at night between soldiers and army deserters and continued into the early hours, including in Douma, a hot spot on the capital's northeastern outskirts.
In eastern Deir Ezzor, the security forces conducted a search and arrest operation, according to the Observatory.
Elsewhere, the official Sana news agency said that an "armed terrorist group" attacked a gas pipeline in the eastern region of Bir al-Jouf.
At least 28 civilians were killed across Syria on Saturday, including two women and two children in the central province of Homs, the Observatory said.
Sixteen soldiers and two deserters were also killed, it said.
As the year-old conflict showed no signs of abating, rebel fighters set up a military council to unify their ranks and political opposition leaders called a meeting of all dissident groups to forge common objectives.
The latest violence came as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was in Moscow to seek the vital backing of Russia, a key ally of the Syrian regime, for his plan to end the bloodshed.
There are growing signs that Moscow is beginning to lose patience with Assad, despite his commitment to massive new Russian arms purchases and the granting of key naval access to the Mediterranean.