Death toll mounts across Syria as opposition presses for world help to oust Assad

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Syrian forces killed at least 30 people across the country on Sunday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

Troops stormed a village in central Syria on Sunday and rained shells on rebel strongholds Duma and Rastan, monitors said.

Syrian troops backed by tanks shot dead scores of civilians when they overran a rebellious Sunni Muslim village west of the city of Hama on Sunday, activists’ organizations said, in a crackdown on the rural epicenter of the 14-month anti-government revolt.

In the Syrian countryside, scores were wounded and scores of houses were burnt in the village of Tamanaa in al-Ghab, said the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an opposition activists’ group.

“The village was subjected to collective punishment. Over half of its houses were burnt. Several people were executed when they were arrested. The rest were killed from bombardment,” a statement from the organization said, according to Reuters.

It said four women were among those killed.

Further doubts over Annan peace plan

The attack cast further doubt on the viability of a plan by United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Violence by Assad’s forces and his increasingly armed foes has continued despite a ceasefire Annan declared a month ago and the presence of a U.N. monitoring mission now with about 150 observers on the ground.

Human Rights Watch said Assad’s forces continued arbitrarily arresting and holding peaceful activists, including protest leaders and doctors who have helped distribute humanitarian aid, in violation of the Annan plan.

It quoted data by the Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian monitoring website, showing at least 780 people had been arrested since Assad agreed to the plan three weeks ago.

“I think the Annan plan is in crisis and that if the approach of the international community against the violence remains weak, there is a real risk that it will reach an impasse,” Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said in Rome.

“There must be a plan to exert pressure on the Syrian government. The Syrian regime has not stuck to its commitments. It continues to fire on the civilian population, torture members of the democratic opposition and to sabotage the plan by all means possible,” Ghalioun told reporters after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi.

Opposition leaders are in Rome to try to strengthen their fractured Syrian National Council (SNC), which is seeking international help to oust Assad. Political jockeying within the SNC has prevented it from gaining full international endorsement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army did not appear to have met any resistance when it overran Tamanaa.

Opposition activists said the Sunni Muslim village, one of dozens that have been torched since Assad’s forces seized control of the cities of Homs and Hama, had seen regular demonstrations against Assad.

Tension in neighboring Lebanon

In neighboring Lebanon, three people were killed when fighting erupted in the city of Tripoli between members of the Alawite minority loyal to Assad and members of the Sunni majority.

In a sign the sectarian tension threatens to spill over into Lebanon, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles were used in the fighting overnight in an Alawite enclave and surrounding Sunni neighborhoods in the port city of Tripoli, 70 km (45 miles) north of Beirut, witnesses and security officials said.

Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon under international pressure in 2005 after a 29-year presence. Assad retains significant influence in the country through his main ally, the Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah, the only Lebanese party that has an officially approved arsenal of weapons.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a wealthy former businessman who had owned one of Syria’s two cellphone operators, is a personal friend of Assad.

Syria’s Sunni majority is at the forefront of the uprising against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Assad’s government says it is fighting a terrorist attempt to divide Syria. It said twin suicide bomb attacks near a secret police branch in Damascus on Wednesday that killed 55 people were the work of foreign-backed Islamist militants.

Claiming Damascus bombings

Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group unknown before the Syrian revolt, released a video on Saturday claiming responsibility for the Damascus attacks as revenge for regime bombing of residential areas in several towns and to avenge Sunnis killed by forces loyal to Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Twin suicide bombings in Damascus on Thursday that killed 55 people and wounded 372 have raised fears that extremist elements are taking advantage of the deadlock in Syria to stoke the unrest.

Claims by the group, including for past bombings, have been difficult to verify, according to AFP.

State media have accused the West and its regional allies of opening the door to al-Qaeda through its backing of the opposition.

The head of the dissident Free Syrian Army in remarks published on Sunday charged that al-Qaeda had links with the powerful air-force intelligence agency of the regime.

“If al-Qaeda militants have indeed entered the country, it happened with the cooperation of that agency,” FSA chief Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told Kuwait’s Al-Rai newspaper.

Asaad dismissed claims by Damascus that jihadist and Salafi groups were active in Syria, and blamed the Syrian regime for Thursday’s devastating bomb blasts in the capital.

More than 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have died since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, according to the Observatory, including more than 900 killed since the April 12 truce.

A Turkish journalist held prisoner in Syria for two months said on Sunday that he and a Turkish cameraman feared they would die and had spent 55 days isolated in cramped cells where they slept on the floor.

The two Turks, who were arrested by a pro-regime militia in March and handed over to Syrian intelligence, returned to Istanbul this weekend after being freed thanks to Iranian mediation.