Syrian forces using human shields - claim
Beirut - Syrian forces continued on Monday their offensive on restive areas across the country, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused regime forces of using civilians as human shields, activists said.
Starting early in the morning, security forces focused their attacks on areas in the central province of Hama, launching a heavy shelling attack after closing all roads leading to the al-Hamadiyeh region, activists said.
In areas near the capital, Damascus, the situation was reported by activists "as very tense" following overnight clashes between rebels and regular army units.
The opposition Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), which documents violence on the ground across Syria, said 70 people were killed across Syria on Sunday.
Amid the continued violence, New York-based HRW said that government forces were using civilians as human shields during arrest and combat operations in rebel-held towns and villages.
Witnesses - cited by HRW in the al-Janoudyah, Kafr Nabl, Kafr Rouma and Ayn Larouz areas of the northern province of Idlib - said they saw the army and pro-government militias force people to march in front of soldiers during an offensive this month to take control of those areas.
"The Syrian army should immediately stop this abhorrent practice," said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at the group.
8 000 dead
HRW published videos, obtained by the opposition, which showed people in civilian clothes walking in front of several armed soldiers and infantry fighting vehicles.
The statement said that residents reported that government forces have also placed children on tanks and inside security buses.
More than 8 000 people have been killed since unrest began in Syria a year ago, according to United Nations estimates.
Meanwhile, international peace envoy Kofi Annan was expected to head to China on Monday after holding talks with Russian officials over the weekend to gather support for his mission to end the bloodbath in Syria.
Annan's spokesperson, Ahmad Fawzi, was quoted as saying that the UN envoy had "very candid and comprehensive discussions" in Moscow.
It was not clear whether Moscow would exert more pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad, its main ally in the region, to implement Annan's plan, which includes demands for a ceasefire, the immediate withdrawal of heavy armour from residential areas and access for humanitarian aid providers.