Dozens have been killed in a renewed assault on the Syrian capital. Regime forces shelled several districts of Damascus in one of the worst attacks on the capital this month, opposition activists said.
At least 37 people were killed on Wednesday when government troops, backed by helicopter gunships and tanks, renewed their bid to stamp out rebel forces in the capital.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the south-western district of Kafr Sousa was the scene of the deadliest operation, with 24 civilians left dead.
"There are 22 tanks in Kafr Sousa now and behind each one there are at least 30 soldiers. They are raiding houses and executing men," an opposition activist told news agency Reuters.
Among the dead was pro-opposition journalist Mohammad Saeed al Odeh, an employee at a state-run newspaper. Activists said he had been executed in the nearby district of Nahr Eisha.
The state-run news agency SANA, meanwhile, reported that regime troops had clashed with an "armed terrorist group" in the southern district of Daraya. It broadcast footage of weapons it said had been seized weapons from rebels in the capital.
Fighting trickles into Lebanon
Clashes were also reported in Syria's commercial capital Aleppo where SANA said fighter jets and artillery had "inflicted heavy losses." Heavy shelling in the southern city Daraa and the eastern town of Deir Ezzor also claimed several lives.
The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began some 17 months ago.
Recent death tolls have now included fighters in Lebanon, where clashes over the Syrian conflict have escalated in recent days. The death toll in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli rose to nine on Wednesday in violence that is pitting pro-opposition Sunni Muslim's against fighters supporting President Assad's Alawite minority.
Residents described the clashes, which erupted on Monday, as the worst violence in Tripoli since Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
Ban Ki-moon in talks with Iran
The latest bout of fighting has coincided with confirmation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that he would attend a summit of non-aligned developing nations in Iran next week.
According Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky, the UN chief planned to discuss the Syrian crisis with Iranian leaders.
The United Nations has suggested that some of the weapons being used by Assad's forces seem to have been supplied by Iran, in violation of a UN resolution which banned such exports. Ban will also raise international concerns over Tehran's controversial nuclear ambitions.
Ban will "convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community" on Iran's nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the civil war in Syria, Nesirky said.
"The secretary general is fully aware of the sensitivities [of his visit] and his responsibilities, which he is determined to carry those out," he added.
Indeed his planned attendance at the meeting has been met with fierce opposition from both the United States and Israel.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this week it would be "strange" for Ban to attend the summit. "We, frankly, don't think that Iran is deserving of these high-level presences," Nuland added.
Meanwhile, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Ban this month he would be making "a big mistake" if he attended the summit.
ccp/av (AFP, Reuters, dpa)