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Syrian rebels kill 7

Syrian rebels killed at least seven pro-government militiamen in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday.

Anti-government activists gesture on the streets of Daraa, 100kms south of the capital Damascus on March 23, 2011. Picture: AFP

AMMAN - Syrian rebels killed at least seven pro-government militiamen in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, activists said, and a large explosion hit a convoy accompanying United Nations (U.N.) ceasefire observers in the southern province of Deraa.

The Damascus attack with rocket-propelled grenades on a bus carrying the fighters through the suburb of Irbin prompted the army to seal off the area and respond with shelling, activist Mohammad Saeed said.

The sustained violence, nearly four weeks after a ceasefire deal was brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan, has led to warnings this week from the Red Cross, Arab League and Annan himself that Syria is slipping into civil war.

Annan's ceasefire deal was part of a wider plan aimed at ending 14 months of turmoil since protests erupted in March last year against President Bashar al-Assad. The demonstrations have now been overshadowed by an increasingly armed rebellion.

Violence in Syria has sharply divided world powers. The United States envoy to the United Nations declared on Tuesday that Assad's government had not fully implemented any part of Annan's plan, while Russia's ambassador, who has been more supportive of Damascus, said "things are moving in a positive direction".

Activists and state media said Major-General Robert Mood was in Deraa when an explosion hit cars accompanying the U.N. monitors tasked with observing the implementation of Annan's April 12 ceasefire deal.

The pro-government Addounia television said eight members of the security forces were wounded in the blast. It said the explosion happened in front of the U.N. observers, but there were no reports that any of them were hurt.

Despite an initial pause in fighting on April 12, a promised ceasefire has not taken hold. Nor has the carnage in Syria stopped, despite a parliamentary poll on Monday which the government promoted as a milestone on its path to reform but which the opposition dismissed as a sham and boycotted.

Beyond the ceasefire and monitoring mission, Annan's plan also calls for free access for journalists, humanitarian aid access and political dialogue between the government and opposition. So far, 60 of some 300 monitors have arrived with the whole team expected to be assembled by the end of May.

CROSS-BORDER FIRE

Lebanese residents in the border town of al-Qaa said Syrian troops fired across the border into Lebanon on Wednesday, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding her daughter.

In the northern province of Idlib, one man was killed and three others wounded during heavy clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A Reuters journalist in Idlib city heard gunfire throughout the night.

Heavy clashes were also reported in Hama city and in Deir al-Zor, where residents say government forces carried out raids and arrests. Two security members were killed and one man was killed by unknown gunmen, the British-based Observatory said.

The U.N. says Syrian forces have killed 9,000 people since the uprising erupted in March 2011. Syrian authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed Islamist militants who they say have killed 2,600 soldiers and police.

Syrian U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari displayed on Tuesday a CD that he said contained 26 confessions from Arabs who were caught in Syria and had come from Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere through Turkey and Lebanon "to perpetrate terrorist acts in Syria".

He said another 15 foreign fighters had been killed by Syrian security forces, and urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop "their sponsorship of the armed rebellion."

The commander of Syria's rebel Free Syrian Army has threatened to resume attacks on Assad's forces, saying he could no longer stand idle while a government crackdown on protests continued, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"We will not stand with folded arms because we are not able to tolerate and wait while killings, arrests and shelling continue despite the presence of the (U.N.) observers who have turned into false witnesses," Asaad said, according to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

"Our people are also demanding we defend them in the absence of any serious steps by the Security Council which is giving the regime a chance to commit more crimes," he added.