Syria rocked by violence
Beirut - Security forces shelled the restive provinces of Homs, Idlib and Hama on Friday as Syria was a few hours away from a deadline to allow an Arab League observer mission into the country to halt the violence or be subjected to sanctions, activists said.
The shelling occurred as the military mounted a wide scale search for army defectors. Shells rained heavily on neighbourhoods in the central province of Homs, which witnessed protests overnight, activists based in Beirut said.
Over the past 24 hours, the shelling has killed more than 35 people in the province, among them a woman and two children, activists said early on Friday.
If Syria fails to meet the deadline, the Arab League said it would meet on Sunday to decide what sanctions to impose on the government.
The continued bloodshed came as the opposition prepared for demonstrations on Friday after weekly prayers under the slogan "The Syrian Free Army will protect me".
The Syrian Free Army, a group of army defectors, recently claimed several attacks against government troops and pro-regime militias.
The group in a statement late on Thursday claimed it killed seven government military pilots when its gunmen attacked their bus in Homs.
"One of our brigades carried out the attack on a bus transporting pilots on the road between Palmyra and Homs, killing seven officers and the driver," the statement said.
News coming out of Syria cannot be independently verified because the government has banned journalists and human rights groups from entering the country.
The United Nations said more than 3 500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the protests first broke out in mid-March while thousands of people have been detained.