Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has acknowledged that his country is in a "state of war" as activists reported the heaviest fighting between government and rebels forces near the capital since the start of a 15-month opposition uprising.
Syria's state news agency SANA says Assad made the comment Tuesday as he addressed his new cabinet. It says he told the ministers that all government policies and resources must be used to secure victory in the war.
Earlier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian military fired artillery in several rebellious suburbs near central Damascus for the first time on Tuesday. The rights group also reported fighting in the cities of Daraa, Homs, Aleppo, and Deir Ezzor, as well as in Hama and Idlib provinces. The Observatory said Tuesday's violence killed at least 62 people, more than half of them civilians.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told Security Council members the situation in Syria is too dangerous for U.N. monitors to resume work there. Diplomats at Tuesday's briefing quote Ladsous as saying the observer mission will remain suspended, as it has been since June 16. The U.N. official also said the Syrian government refuses to allow the monitors to use satellite telephones, which he called "key tools" of the operation.
The almost 300 unarmed military observers in Syria had come under attack several times with gunfire and bombs in the weeks before they stopped their patrols. The U.N. Security Council must decide by July 20 whether to renew the mission's mandate.
The Observatory has a network of contacts in Syria including rebels, activists and state security members. The group has said Syria's conflict has killed more than 15,000 people. Its reports of fighting and casualties cannot be independently confirmed.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.