BEIRUT — Shells slammed into the central Syrian city of Homs Sunday, killing more than two dozen people, activists said, as Syria's government defied cease-fire demands and international efforts to boost the rebels.
Activists said heavy machine gun fire and artillery pounded the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bayada and Safsafa in the battered city, despite world demands on the Syrian regime to end violence that has killed thousands of people in the past year.
In the latest steps, participants at the "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting in Istanbul said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a multimillion-dollar fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime. One delegate described the fund as a "pot of gold" to undermine Assad's army.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States is providing communications equipment to help opposition members in Syria organize, remain in contact with the outside world and evade regime attacks.
The Syrian government blasted the meeting, calling it the "Enemies of Syria" gathering.
Damascus has consistently dismissed the country's yearlong uprising as a foreign-engineered plot.
Syria's uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests calling for political reforms. Dissent spread as Assad's forces deployed tanks, snipers and thugs to try to quash it, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops.
The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed.
Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is pushing to end the violence with a six-point plan that calls on the government to immediately pull its forces out of cities and towns and abide by a two-hour halt in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations, while arranging a permanent cease-fire.
Syria has said it agrees to the plan but has rejected what it actually requires Damascus to do.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said the government would not withdraw its force from towns and cities before life returns to normal there.
Leaders of Syria's scattered opposition have also rejected dialogue with the Assad regime, accusing it of stalling for time and saying it has killed too many people to be considered serious about peace.
Activists said violence continued inside the country Sunday and criticized the Istanbul meeting as a waste of time.
"The conference has to arm the opposition, the Free Army. That is the best thing they can do because we're tired of promises and initiatives. We're tired of it," said activist Hadi al-Yousef in the southern town of Dael, which has come under fierce attack in the past days.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 36 people were killed in military operations across the country Sunday, most of them civilians. They included four government soldiers killed in an attack on their convoy in the northern Idlib province.
The Local Coordination Committees put the number of deaths at 50, saying 18 died in Homs province.
Clashes were also reported in suburbs of Damascus, in the central region of Hama and in Daraa in the country's south.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|