Fighting raged on Friday between Syrian army deserters and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, monitors said, only four days before a troop pullback agreed by Damascus as part of international envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end a year of bloodshed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that fierce battles were taking place in the villages of al-Tiba, al-Qabu and Shniyeh in central Homs province.
The fighting broke out after militias loyal to President Assad opened fire on a group of seven women, killing two and wounding four, the Britain-based Observatory said in a statement.
It said regime forces were pounding districts of Homs city and that the encircled town of Rastan to the north was being bombarded with mortar rounds and heavy machinegun fire.
The monitoring group also said the body of a man arrested some hours earlier was recovered at Khan Sheikhun in the Idlib region of the northwest.
Elsewhere, security forces launched search operations in Damascus suburbs after a night of clashes with deserters in which three soldiers were killed, the Observatory said.
And at Douma near the capital, it said security forces were attacking the Abdel Rauf district, where the sound of explosions and firing could be heard.
“Tanks went into Douma last night, then they left. Today at 7 in the morning they came back. There has been shelling on Douma since the morning. We are not sure if people were killed but the shelling did not stop,” a local activist said.
“At least 5 tanks and 10 buses loaded with security men and Shabiha (pro-Assad militia) entered Douma,” he said.
Army shelling of villages in the northwestern province of Idlib has prompted a swelling exodus of Syrian refugees.
More than 2,800 fled into Turkey on Thursday, a Turkish official said, more than double the highest previous one-day total.
The refugees all crossed close to the Turkish village of Bukulmez and more were waiting on the other side of the border, the official said. Forty-four minibuses ferried the arrivals from the border to a refugee camp at Reyhanli.
“The army is destroying buildings and bombing them till they turn to charcoal,” said Mohammed Khatib, a refugee who said he came from Kastanaz, a Syrian town of 20,000 people.
“The army wants people to move out of their houses. If the residents refuse, they destroy them with the people inside.”
The renewed violence erupted a day after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict was worsening and attacks on civilian areas persisted, despite assurances from Damascus that its troops had begun withdrawing under the plan.