33 killed as Syria tightens grip on restive provinces

33 killed as Syria tightens grip on restive provinces

At least 33 people were killed across Syria on Wednesday, including eight members of the security forces, while fears grew that government forces were preparing a wide-scale military operation against the rebellious provinces of Homs and Hama, DPA reported.

"Twenty five civilians were killed in the provinces of Hama, Homs, Daraa and Idlib as the thugs of the regime continued their military operation to crush the uprising against their leader (Syrian president Bashar la-Assad)," activists based at the Lebanese northern border with Syria told dpa by phone.

A 46-year-old Turkish citizen identified as Munur Dural was among those killed in Idlib province, near the Turkish border. Activists said he was killed by gunfire from Syrian security forces.

Wednesday's violence were the second day in a row in which an attack by government forces on civilians triggered deadly acts of revenge by army defectors, who have joined the opposition.

Eight soldiers were ambushed by defectors in the province of Hama shortly after army units killed five civilians near the Al-Khataab area of the province of Hama, activists said.

On Tuesday, a convoy of army troops was ambushed, resulting in the death of at least 11 soldiers, shortly after civilians were killed in Daraa.

Syria's state-media also reported that funerals were held Wednesday for seven soldiers killed by "armed terrorist groups" while they were on duty in Homs, Hama and Daraa.

The Syrian authorities have been blaming the unrest in the country on terrorist groups financed by some Arab and foreign countries to destabilize Syria.

Omar Homsi, an activist based in Homs told dpa by phone, that the province was now in total darkness, with electricity cut off.

"The regime is preparing wide-scale operations against the provinces of Homs and Hama. Let the world know that the people of Hama and Homs will fight the regime thugs will all the available means," he said.

Both provinces have been at the centre of unrest since demonstrations against al-Assad began in mid-March. More than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by government forces on pro-democracy protesters, according to United Nations estimates.

Meanwhile in Duma, to the north of the capital Damascus, telephone lines were cut off Wednesday, while heavy gunfire could be heard near a state security office, activists said.

In Harasta, on the outskirts of Damascus, security forces conducted house-to-house searches and arrested more than 20 people, added the activists.

News from Syria cannot be independently verified, as authorities have barred most foreign media from the country.

Meanwhile in Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Wednesday denied media reports that the pan-Arab organization plans to impose a no-fly zone in Syria.

"I am surprised about such inaccurate reports at a time when efforts and contacts are still under way to remove the obstacles to allowing Arab monitors into Syria and ensure the success of providing an Arab solution (to the Syrian crisis)," he told reporters in Cairo.

The regional bloc's foreign ministers are to meet in Cairo on Saturday for renewed discussion of the violence in Syria, according to al-Arabi.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), which groups more than 140 opposition leaders, is due to meet in Tunisia December 16-18.

"The meeting will be held behind closed doors in the presence of Tunisian president Monsef Marzouki," sources told dpa in Tunisia.

Meanwhile, UN Security Council Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that the international community must now act against the Syrian government's crackdown on protests.

"In Syria, more than 5,000 people are dead. This cannot go on. In the name of humanity, it is time for the international community to act," the UN secretary general said.

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