At least 34 people died in violence across Syria on Saturday, as activists reported fierce clashes between soldiers and deserters and authorities warned the country would be “cleansed” of outlaws.
Twenty-three of those reported killed were military or security personnel.
Soldiers clashed with deserters in the restive central town of Rastan in Homs province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported similar confrontations in Al-Ghuta, near the capital.
Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based watchdog, told AFP three deserters were killed in Rastan’s fighting, while at least five soldiers were killed in clashes in nearby Al-Hula.
“A large number of soldiers at the countless checkpoints inside the city deserted and turned their arms on the regime’s soldiers,” said an activist on the ground in Rastan.
“Residents are trying to help deserters fight their way out of Rastan and reach the positions of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army,” added the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The clashes in Al-Ghuta left at least six civilians and 11 members of the security forces dead, said the Observatory.
Meanwhile, an ambush on a bus near the rebel stronghold of Douma, just north of Damascus, killed seven Syrian soldiers, including an officer, the official SANA news agency reported, blaming the attack on a “terrorist group.”
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar said the authorities were determined to “cleanse” the country of outlaws and to restore order.
“Groups are committing terrorist acts and killing innocent people, robbing them of their property and undermining their security,” he said, quoted by SANA.
Elsewhere, the Observatory said a child was killed in the oil province of Deir Ezzor when a shell struck his house, and a pipeline was set ablaze in Quriah, also in Deir Ezzor, after being hit by heavy machinegun fire.
And a civilian was fatally wounded by security forces in the southern province of Daraa, the rights group said.
The reports could not be independently verified because of government restrictions on journalists covering the unrest, which broke out last March and has claimed thousands of lives.