Last updated: 8 January, 2012

At least 21 killed in latest Syria violence

Syrian security forces and pro-regime militias on Sunday shot and killed at least 10 civilians as troops and deserters engaged in deadly battles, a human rights group said.

The latest violence came as the Arab League said its controversial mission in Syria would continue despite “harassment” by both the government and the opposition.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy clashes broke out before dawn between the Syrian army and deserters in the southern Daraa province, leaving 11 soldiers dead.

Another 20 soldiers were wounded in the fighting while nine soldiers defected to join the rebel troops, the Britain-based Observatory said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.

It also reported deadly clashes in the the village of Basr al-Harir and heavy machinegun exchanges between the army and deserters in the Daraa town of Dael. There was no immediate word on any casualties there.

Cradle of the protests against President Bashar al-Assad that erupted in March, Daraa has been one of the provinces hardest hit by the deadly crackdown unleashed by his regime.

Mutinous soldiers and troops also clashed in the town of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, the Observatory said, adding that the loyalists “suffered material and human losses” although no details were given.

Two civilians were also reportedly killed by gunfire in Zabadani on Sunday, as security forces raided the town, the watchdog said.

A 15-year-old boy was among seven other civilians killed by gunfire from security forces and pro-regime “shabiha” militiamen in the central flashpoint province of Homs, the group said.

And a 19-year-old man was killed in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, Syria’s oil hub, where 30 civilians were also arrested during search operations by regime forces, it added.

The latest deaths came as Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo to review the observer mission, in the face of growing calls for the bloc to cede to the United Nations the lead role in trying to end the bloodshed.