Beirut - Violence hit two Syrian provinces on Tuesday with a rights group reporting 10 civilians dead in an army mortar attack and 12 soldiers killed in a firefight with rebel gunmen as United Nations monitors sought to shore up a flimsy ceasefire.
The UN accused both sides of breaching the truce and said it had credible reports that at least 34 children had been killed since the accord took effect on April 12.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the 13-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, said nine members of one family died in mortar bomb blasts in a village in the northern province of Idlib.
An activist on the Turkish border, Tareq Abdelhaq, said 35 people had been wounded and that some were being carried 25km along mountain tracks to receive emergency treatment in refugee camps dotted along the frontier.
“Some are being smuggled over the border to Turkey. They had to carry the wounded and go through the mountains to avoid checkpoints on the road,” Abdelhaq said. “One guy died on the way. He was 19 years old and had very bad injuries.”
In the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, troops hit back with mortar and heavy machinegun fire after losing a dozen of their own to insurgents, killing at least one villager and destroying a school, the anti-Assad Observatory added.
The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 9 000 people since the uprising began in March 2011.
Like other Arab revolts against autocratic rulers, Syria's revolt began with peaceful protests but a violent government response has spawned an increasingly bloody insurgency.
The government says rebels have killed more than 2 600 soldiers and police, and the speaker of Syria's parliament, Mahmoud al-Abrach, said that outside states backing the insurgency bore responsibility for the bloodshed.
“The escalation is continuing and it must be stopped from the outside - I mean those who are providing those groups with weapons and money,” he told Reuters Television in Damascus. “They need to stop this.”
The ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan briefly calmed but failed to halt the conflict. Rebels, although low on funds and ammunition, seem to be stepping up a bombing campaign.
Explosions blew the fronts off buildings in the north-western city of Idlib on Monday, killing nine people and wounding 100, including security personnel, according to state television, which blamed the blasts on “terrorist” suicide bombers.
Damascus has accused the United Nations of turning a blind eye to rebel ceasefire violations, although Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the Idlib blasts and rocket fire on the central bank in the capital as “terrorist bomb attacks”.
The United Nations now has 30 truce monitors in Syria, a sprawling nation of 23-million people, and officials in New York said they expected all members of the planned 300-member mission to be on the ground by the end of the month.
Their commander, Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, has acknowledged his mission cannot solve Syria's fundamental problems but said the security situation was not impossible.
“We have seen this in many crises before that if you simply keep adding to the violence with more bombs and weapons and more violence, it becomes a circle that is almost impossible to break,” he told BBC radio. “We are not in that situation.”
Western governments have lost patience with Assad, accusing him of breaking promises made to Annan that he would order troops and tanks back to their barracks.
Paris has called for UN sanctions against Damascus, but the West can do little given the diplomatic cover Syria enjoys at the Security Council from China and Russia. Moscow says the rebels are mainly to blame for the continued violence.
Western states are wary of military intervention along the lines of last year's air campaign that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi because of the greater diplomatic and military complexities of tackling Syria, as well as the potential spillover effects on a volatile Middle Eastern neighbourhood. - Reuters