The need for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to speedily exit power has been highlighted by France and Britain on Thursday, with the European leaders saying the embattled regime needs to make way for a new government to be formed by the Syrian opposition.
“David Cameron and I are in total agreement -- we must accelerate the political transition (and) help the opposition to form a government,” said Hollande, after talks with the British prime minister in London.
“We have a duty to help the Syrian opposition in any way we can,” Hollande added in a statement with Cameron at his side.
The French president was attending the London Paralympic Games on Thursday as well as meeting with Cameron on issues ranging from Syria to the ongoing eurozone crisis.
Britain and France are among the Western nations leading calls for Assad to step down in a bid to end the bloody conflict in Syria, which started almost 18 months ago.
Fighting raged across the country on Thursday as 173 people were reportedly killed by security force gunfire across the country, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said.
In Homs province, at least nine soldiers and four members of the “popular committees” of civilians armed by the government were killed and dozens more civilian fighters wounded, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
These committees are made up of people who have taken up arms to defend their villages or neighborhoods against the rebels.
The fighting in Homs was concentrated in the Crac des Chevaliers region, home to a historic Crusader castle, and Wadi al-Nassara, a valley where a number of Christian villages are located.
The Britain-based Observatory which gave Thursday’s toll, also reported fierce battles and army shelling in Qadam in southern Damascus where anti-regime sentiment is strong, as well as shelling in nearby Assali.
Clashes also broke out elsewhere in the city, including in the Sayyida Zeinab area of the southeastern outskirts, home to an important Shiite Muslim shrine, the group said.
In the central province of Hama, Kafr Zeita, another main arena of the nearly 18-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, came under fierce shelling by regime forces for a second consecutive day, according to activists.
Elsewhere, a military source said the army has retaken the strategic Barkum bridge south of Aleppo on the highway to Damascus, three weeks after rebels seized it.
In the west of Aleppo city itself, regime forces have advanced towards the Rashid mosque in the Izaa district amid fierce fighting, a military source said.
And more than a dozen people were killed when a mortar round exploded for the first time in a Kurdish quarter of the city, the Observatory and witnesses said.
Alleged new ‘massacre’
In an alleged new massacre, 23 corpses, including those of women and children, were found in Zamalka, in Damascus province, said the Observatory, as anti-Assad activists pointed the finger at the regime.
The town has been a hotbed of anti-regime protest, army raids and clashes between regime forces and rebels.
The Observatory also reported that two kidnapped brothers of a Syrian rebel commander were killed on Thursday.
The men were seized at an army checkpoint on Wednesday night, it said. They were found dead in the Qadam district of Damascus amid a sharp increase in reports of abductions across the country.
Amateur video posted on YouTube by activists showed the bodies of the two men, identified as Mohammed and Ahmed al-Zakh, covered in blood. The head of one of the victims had been partly blown off.
The violence has claimed more than 26,000 lives since it erupted in mid-March 2011, according to the Observatory.