BEIRUT -- Syrian troops clashed with army defectors in an eastern city Thursday, leaving at least one person dead, while government forces bombarded rebel-held neighborhoods of the central city of Homs, activists said.
The renewed violence comes as the international community struggles to salvage a week-old cease-fire that is seen as the only way to end the bloodshed that has killed more than 9,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar Assad began 13 months ago.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that violence has escalated in recent days after a lull on April 12, the day the cease-fire went into effect, but he said peace efforts must continue.
"I remain deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation in the country," he said in a letter late Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council. "However, without underestimating the serious challenges ahead, an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build."
The Security Council has authorized an advance team of 30 observers to monitor compliance with the peace plan put forth by international envoy Kofi Annan, and a small group is already at work.
Ban called on the council to approve an expanded United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, to be known as UNSMIS, comprising an initial deployment of up to 300 military observers in approximately 10 locations throughout the country, for an initial period of three months.
On Wednesday, Syrian security forces opened fire on anti-regime demonstrators surrounding the cars carrying some of the observers in a Damascus suburb, sending them speeding off and protesters dashing for cover, according to activists and amateur videos. The observers escaped unharmed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes broke out Thursday in Deir el-Zour, near the border with Iraq, killing one civilian and wounding three others.
Syrian troops also began shelling the rebel-held neighborhoods of Qarabees and Jouret el-Shayah in Homs - which has emerged as a center of the rebellion - about 6:30 a.m. and intense shooting and explosions could be heard for hours, according to the Observatory.
"We are being subjected to intense shelling with mortars," Abu Joud, an activist in the city, said via Skype. The activist urged international observers, who began their mission in Syria this week, to visit Homs.
"Until now they haven't come here although Homs is the hardest hit city in Syria," Abu Joud said.
Amateur videos posted online showed smoke billowing from a residential area in Homs as the sound of shelling could be heard. "This is the destroyed Homs. Homes are on fire and people fled. May God help us. Look Kofi Annan," an activist could be heard saying.
Activists also said Syrian troops were shelling areas in the nearby town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon. The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the regime was sending reinforcements to the town. Rebels have had control of some areas of the town for months.
"A shell is falling every five minutes on Qusair," said Rami Abdul-Rahman who heads the Observatory.
Assad's regime has strictly limited reporting in the country so the reports could not be independently confirmed.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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|