Middle East

Syria unrest: Defectors 'ambush army convoy' near Hama

Soldiers of the Free Syrian Army, formed by army deserters, 7 December
Image caption Syrian army deserters have started fighting back

Army defectors have opened fire on a military convoy in central Syria, in retaliation for a deadly attack on a car carrying civilians, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least eight soldiers died in the ambush on four vehicles in al-Asharna, on the outskirts of Hama.

The attack came after five people were killed when an army artillery shell hit their car near al-Khatab, it added.

More than 35 people were reportedly killed by security forces on Tuesday.

The majority of deaths were in the restive north-western province of Idlib.

Activists said troops opened fire on funeral processions in the villages of Maaret Masreen and Kfar Yahmoul following an attack by defectors in which seven soldiers died. The defectors were themselves retaliating for an earlier raid on the villages by security forces that left 11 civilians dead.

Syrian state media reported that 17 military funerals took place on Tuesday for victims of "armed terrorist gangs".

'Crimes against humanity'

It is not clear why the army targeted the car travelling near the village of al-Khatab, but the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman, said security forces frequently patrolled Hama and the surrounding area looking for protesters and army defectors.

Hours later, defectors opened fire on military vehicles passing through the nearby village of al-Asharna. No group said it was behind the ambush, but the Free Syrian Army has carried out similar attacks.

Mr Abdul Rahman also said there had been heavy gunfire in the village of Hirak, in the southern province of Deraa, as troops hunted for activists.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist group that documents and organises protests, said 26 people had so far been killed nationwide on Wednesday, including two women and a child.

Its website said nine people had died in the central city of Homs; eight in Hama; three in Maaret Masreen, two in suburbs of the capital Damascus; two in Deraa, and one each in the north-eastern city of Qamishli and Zabadani, near the Lebanese border.

Meanwhile, a Lebanese official told the AFP news agency that two people had been wounded when a Syrian military patrol entered Lebanese territory and opened fire on the border village of Khirbat Daoud.

Bakr Hujairi said the wounded were in a stable condition in hospital.

Image caption The clashes were triggered by a raid on the village of Maaret Masreen

The violence came two days after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, put the death toll from the nine-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad at 5,000.

She also said the actions of the Syrian authorities constituted crimes against humanity, and recommended that the UN Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Syria's envoy to the UN rejected Ms Pillay's findings, saying she was not objective and had allowed herself to be used to mislead public opinion.

But on Tuesday, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, reiterated that the brutal repression of Syrian civilians was "totally unacceptable".

"Assad must listen to his people, to his neighbours, to the Arab partners, to Europe, to the world. We all have the same message: he should stop the violence against his own people and let the transition begin."

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