Damascus: Army defectors reportedly killed 11 Syrian soldiers today, four in a bombing, as the unrest sweeping Syria edged closer to all-out armed conflict and the UN chief urged an immediate end to the bloodletting.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the soldiers' deaths and said four civilians were also killed in the country as President Bashar al-Assad's regime pressed its brutal crackdown on dissent.
"Gunmen suspected of being army defectors blew up a bomb by remote control as an army vehicle passed by Ehssem in the countryside of the (northwestern province of Idlib), killing an officer and three soldiers, and wounding others," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP in Nicosia.
Earlier, the Britain-based Observatory reported that five soldiers were killed in clashes with gunmen suspected too of being army defectors in the flashpoint central province of Homs.
Analysts have warned that the longer the repression continues, the more chance there is of opposition groups taking up arms, while UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned at the weekend that Syria risked "a full-blown civil war."
Pillay said that more than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in the crackdown on anti-regime protests.
Earlier this month, a top army defector now living across the border in Turkey called for military aid to help his armed opposition group topple the Damascus regime. Colonel Riad al-Assad, who defected in July, appealed for weapons for the "Syrian Free Army" he has set up.
"If the international community helps us, then we can do it, but we are sure the struggle will be more difficult without arms," he said in the interview published by the English-language Hurriyet Daily News.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon meanwhile urged Assad to immediately stop the killings of civilians, a day after the Arab League called for "national dialogue" to end the violence.
"There are continuous killings of civilian people. These killings must stop immediately," Ban said in Bern.
"I told Assad: 'Stop before it is too late'," he said. "It is unacceptable that 3,000 people have been killed. The UN is urging him again to take urgent action."
Ban also called on Assad to accept an international commission of inquiry into rights violations ordered by the UN Human Rights Council in April. Damascus has blocked investigators from entering the country.
The Observatory reported that scores of soldiers were also wounded in confrontations today with suspected army defectors, including at least 17 in Idlib province.
In Homs, 20 soldiers fled into nearby orchards after clashes with suspected defectors killed seven troops, the watchdog said. An earlier toll said five died in the fighting. And it reported the deaths of four civilians, three in the city of Homs and one in a prison in Hama, two hotbeds of dissent against the Assad regime. Six civilians were also wounded in Homs where security forces opened fire and carried out raids.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network spurring protests, meanwhile issued a statement accusing security forces of intensifying their crackdown on doctors who treat wounded demonstrators.
The violence in Syria prompted Arab foreign ministers to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday at Arab League headquarters in Cairo.
Ministers agreed to renew contact with the Syrian government and opposition groups to spur the launch of a national dialogue within 15 days.