Syria forces kill 16 civilians
Nicosia - Syrian forces killed 16 civilians including two children on Saturday as they pressed on with a crackdown on dissent across the country, a rights group said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six civilians were killed when security forces launched search operations in the southern Daraa province, the cradle of anti-regime protests that began in mid-March.
The deaths occurred in the village of Kfarshams where "violent clashes pitted members of the security forces and soldiers against a group of army deserters", the Observatory said in a statement.
Mutinous soldiers and troops also clashed in the northwest region of Idlib, the group said.
Two children were among three people killed in the Idlib village of Kafr Sajnah where security forces opened fire indiscriminately, it said.
Another civilian and a mutinous soldier were killed when more than 150 armoured vehicles entered the Jabal al-Zawiyah district in Idlib, it added.
And in the protest hub of Homs in central Syria, five civilians were killed by the security forces and snipers in the town of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, while a sixth civilian was killed nearby, it said.
On Friday, at least 19 civilians were killed in protests across Syria amid mass rallies to criticise the League's failure to take tougher action.
"The Arab League is killing us - enough deadlines," was the protesters' slogan.
The UN estimates that more than 5 000 people have been killed in Syria in a government crackdown on anti-regime protests launched in mid-March.
Meanwhile activists said that a civil disobedience campaign launched on December 11 was still being observed in Idlib, Daraa, Homs and Hama further north as well as in the flashpoint Damascus suburbs of Douma and Harasta.
Activists had urged Syrians to strike in the first stage of a wider campaign to put pressure on the regime.
"Today [Saturday] shops will begin their strike and we will shut down our cellphones during four hours each afternoon," a message on the Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011 said.
The Arab League, meanwhile, threatened to take Syria to the UN Security Council if it continues to resist calls to allow monitors inside the country to protect civilians as part of a peace plan to end the bloodshed.