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Clashes rage in Syria between army, deserters

Clashes raged yesterday in Syria between troops and suspected army deserters as more civilians were reportedly killed in the crisis-hit country, a rights group said.

On the diplomatic front the Arab League announced that Syrian authorities had agreed to allow a delegation to visit the country next week as part of efforts by the 22-member organisation to defuse the spiraling violence. The delegation will also include Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi and the foreign ministers of Algeria Egypt, Oman and Sudan.

Meanwhile, however, violence in Syria has intensified in recent weeks as defections from the army reportedly increase, and at least five civilians died in yesterday’s violence, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Violent clashes today pitted troops to gunmen believed to be army deserters” in Burhaniya, near the town of Qusayr in central Homs province, said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads rights watchdog.

He quoted residents as saying “several soldiers were killed and wounded and two military vehicles were destroyed,” but was unable to give a precise casualty toll.

Abdel Rahman said power, water and communication had been cut off in Qusayr yesterday.

The Britain-based Observatory also reported five civilian deaths yesterday and said a sixth person died of injuries sustained the previous day.

One woman was shot dead yesterday in the district of Deir Baalaba in Homs when her home came under heavy fire and a 25-year-old man was killed when he was hit by a stray bullet in Damir outside Damascus, the watchdog said.

A third civilian was killed and five others wounded in the central Hama region when security forces opened fire on a crowd which gathered outside a military camp to demand the release of villagers detained by the army.

And two young people were killed in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the anti-regime protests that erupted in mid-March, when security forces opened fire to disperse a protest by students, it said.

The Observatory also reported several protests in the Sahl el-Ghab region of Hama after schoolchildren there were reportedly detained by security forces.

The UN estimates more than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in a fierce crackdown on dissent in Syria.

The Arab League earlier this month had called for “national dialogue” in the Egyptian capital between Syria’s government and the opposition to help end the violence and avoid “foreign intervention” in Damascus. The proposal was swiftly rejected by Syria’s official media.

Meanwhile UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on Damascus to end its incursions into Lebanon, which have left three Syrians dead in recent weeks, warning the raids could ignite tensions in the region.

“I strongly deplore the violent incursions and raids into Lebanese towns and villages by Syrian security forces that resulted in death and injury,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a report release late Wednesday.

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