Syria deaths pile up despite peace call
Beirut - Fierce clashes raged across Syria despite a UN Security Council peace call, with 10 civilians on a bus trying to flee to Turkey among at least 26 people killed on Thursday, monitors and activists said.
The bus, with women and children on board, was shot up near the town of Sermin in the northwestern province of Idlib, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, without identifying the assailants.
An opposition activist on the ground, Milad Fadl, contacted by AFP in Beirut, said the civilians were headed for Turkey to escape the bloodshed when regime forces opened fire.
The Britain-based Observatory said earlier that a 17-year-old boy was killed and dozens wounded in an army assault on Sermin itself.
Army forces attacked several towns, while rebel fighters struck army posts in several provinces and announced a command structure to co-ordinate hit-and-run strikes in and around the capital.
In the deadliest attack on the army, five soldiers were killed in a raid on a military checkpoint in the region of Latakia, said the Observatory.
The region has a large population of Alawites, members of the minority offshoot of Shi'ite Islam to which President Bashar Assad also belongs and which forms the backbone of his regime.
In the south, rebel fighters killed a soldier and wounded four others near the village of Saida in Daraa province, where Syria's year-old revolt against the regime erupted, said the monitoring group.
Army deserters killed two soldiers in the town.
It added three civilians were killed as troops sprayed heavy machinegun fire in Qusayr, a town in the flashpoint province of Homs, central Syria, where rebel forces killed four soldiers.
The reports could not be confirmed due to restrictions on the movements of foreign media.
The escalation came just hours after the Security Council passed a statement urging Assad and his foes to implement "fully and immediately" international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.
Annan's plan calls for Assad to pull troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities, a daily two-hour humanitarian pause to hostilities, access to all areas affected by the fighting, and a UN-supervised halt to all clashes.
A correspondent at the scene also reported violent clashes in and around Sermin, a village near the town of Binesh in Idlib, as army shelling and tank fire threw up thick plumes of black smoke.
Free Syrian Army fighters and regular troops were locked in close-up street fighting, rebel Sergeant Abu Adel said by telephone from the scene of the clashes, as civilians took shelter in basements.
At least four civilians, including two children, were killed and more than 30 wounded, according to FSA sources.
"Tanks have been posted on the Sermin-Binesh road blocking any evacuation of the wounded or villagers from fleeing the clashes," said another rebel fighter, Abu Salem.
Monitors say more than 9 100 people have been killed in a revolt against Assad that started with peaceful protests before turning into an increasingly armed revolt, faced with a brutal crackdown costing dozens of lives each day.
On the rebel side, the Free Syrian Army has set up a military council to co-ordinate hit-and-run strikes around Damascus, it announced in an online video.
"I, Colonel Khaled Mohammed al-Hammud, announce the creation of the military council for Damascus and the region that will be in charge of FSA operations in this region," an army officer who deserted says in the video.
Rebel fighters, lightly armed, have been on the retreat from cities since the start of March in the face of the far superior firepower of government forces. They have been turning to hit-and-run guerrilla raids.