32 killed as Syria begins "open warfare" against defectors
At least 32 people were killed Tuesday, among them army defectors and Syrian troops, as violence intensified between the Syrian army and defectors who have joined the opposition against president Bashar al-Assad, reported dpa.
"The Syrian troops have started an open warfare against defectors and pro-democracy protesters to crush the nine-month uprising against al-Assad," said an army defector in the restive province of Idlib, which is the hub of deserters.
Ahmed Khalaf, one of the deserters based in Idlib near the Turkish border, told dpa by telephone that ten army defectors were killed in the province on Tuesday.
"The brave defectors died during the early hours of the morning when they confronted an army unit near Idlib," he said.
He added that eleven civilians were killed when Syrian troops opened fire randomly on funeral processions in two villages, Maarret Masrin and Kfar Yahmul.
"In retaliation for the killing of civilians, our forces carried out an attack on an army unit near Idlib, killing seven army troops loyal to the regime," Khalaf added.
Meanwhile, state-run agency SANA said Syrian border guards had killed two armed "terrorists" who were attempting to infiltrate the country from across the border with Turkey.
"Border guard forces in Idlib province foiled an infiltration attempt by an armed terrorist group into the Syrian lands through the Ain al-Baida site of Badama," the report read.
The guards clashed with a group of 15 in total, killing two and wounding the others.
Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, who heads the group of defectors called the Free Syrian Army, is based in a Turkish border camp and has recently said that his forces now number 20,000.
In an interview on December 2, al-Asaad made a plea to US President Barack Obama to offer quick and decisive support for the Syrian resistance.
Syrian security forces tightened their grip around the province of Homs early Tuesday, in what was seen as a prelude to more raids against anti-government protests, activists said.
Heavy shelling targeted the Rastan area, killing at least two.
Smoke billowed over Talbiseh town, after a gas pipeline passing through the area was hit by the shelling, activists based in Beirut said.
"The gas smell which is filling the air has prompted some residents to flee their homes," they said.
State-run media denied the pipeline was hit by a shell and said "terrorist gangs" blew up the facility.
Syria has been blaming the unrest in the country on armed terrorists financed by Arab and western countries.
Last week, a pipeline carrying oil to a refinery in Homs was blown up, leaving residents in the province with no fuel supplies. Some of them were forced to procure the fuel on the black market.
Homs, one of the main hubs of the demonstrations against al-Assad's regime, has been besieged by security forces and loyalist militias for months.
Tuesday's explosion is the fourth reported attack on energy infrastructure since the outbreak of uprising which has so far claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.
The intensified violence prompted Syria's main ally, Russia, to lash out at the opposition and accuse them of putting the lives of their own supporters at risk.
"I believe there can be no doubt that their (the Syrian opposition's) goal is to provoke a humanitarian catastrophe, to create grounds for demanding foreign intervention in the conflict," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
Attacks by armed elements of the Syrian opposition on police checkpoints and government buildings were part of the campaign of calculated violence, he said, adding that they undermined opposition claims they want democracy and peace.