52 killed in Syria, troops pound rebels strongholds: NGO
Helicopter gunships on Monday fired on rebel positions in central and northwestern Syria in a bid to snuff out the gunmen as violence killed 52 people across the country, a monitoring group said.
Helicopters strafed rebels' positions in Al-Heffa, in the northwestern province of Latakia, and in Rastan, in the central province of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Regime troops have pounded Al-Heffa daily for the past week to snuff out rebel Free Syrian Army fighters deployed in the rugged countryside near the Turkish border, activists said.
Activists said Monday's assault was violent and described the situation in Al-Heffa as "terrible," although there were no immediate reports of casualties.
"Army tanks are deployed at the entrances of the town. They have never come this close before," local activist Sema Nassar told AFP in Beirut via Skype, weeping as she spoke.
"There's only one doctor working to treat the wounded in the town," of 30 000 people, said Nassar, adding that most of the residents have fled.
"Some civilians have stayed behind to help the rebel fighters defend the town," she added.
Nassar also pointed to report carried by the official SANA news agency and Syrian TV claiming that "terrorists" were planning "to carry out a massacre" in Al-Heffa and nearby Tfil.
"This is cause for great concern. It seems there are plans to kill many people," said Nassar.
Government troops also used helicopters to attack rebel positions in the Homs province town of Rastan which has been under intermittent army shelling "for months," the Britain-based Observatory said.
Four civilians, including a young girl, were killed in the violence, it added.
Troops have trying to overrun Rastan since mid-May, after rebel fighters from the battered city of Homs regrouped in the town which straddles the main highway linking Damascus to the north.
In restive Qusayr, also in Homs province, another two civilians were killed, the Observatory said.
Activists in the central province of Hama told AFP that regime troops continued to target towns and villages in the region, where anti-regime sentiment was strong.
"We are worried about how much violence there might be there right now, because we have heard that regime forces are using residents as human shields," an activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi told AFP via Skype.
At least five people were killed across Hama on Monday, the Observatory said.
Elsewhere, at least nine people were killed in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where rebels and regime forces clashed, while a blast in the northwestern city of Idlib killed a civilian and seven regime forces.
Also in Idlib, 11 others were killed, including three rebels, six regime troops, two women and a teenager, according to the watchdog.
And after days of violent clashes in the capital, a booby-trapped car exploded in the central district of Barzeh killing one person, the watchdog added, while gunmen shot dead a Baath party official in the city suburbs.
The latest deaths in strife-torn Syria took place after at least 63 people were killed nationwide on Sunday -- 38 civilians, 19 soldiers, and six rebel fighters -- the Observatory reported.
More than 14 100 people have been killed since an anti-regime revolt broke out in March last year, including 9862 civilians, 3,470 soldiers and 783 army defectors, according to the watchdog.
The Observatory counts rebel fighters who are not deserters from the army as civilians.