CAIRO - Syrian government forces continued their heavy shelling of the flashpoint cities of Homs and Deir el-Zor, amid reports of more intense fighting in the region of Latakia. The new head of the Syrian opposition, meanwhile, is urging government officials to defect.
Witnesses say troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pounded the flashpoint city of Homs Monday with field artillery, rockets and mortars.
International mediator Kofi Annan voiced concern on Monday over shelling in Homs and reports of similar attacks on the town of al-Haffa in Latakia. A spokesman for Mr. Annan said there are indications that many people are trapped in these towns.
Syrian government forces also continued to shell parts of the desert town of Deir el-Zor and its outskirts. Heavy fighting was reported in at least four nearby towns.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army says that a group of government soldiers at the Ghantu rocket base near Homs defected, taking munitions and weaponry. Amateur video showed plumes of smoke rising over the base.
Syrian state TV reported that government security forces discovered a car packed with 700 kilograms of explosives in the Damascus suburb of Shiba'a. It showed U.N. observers inspecting the trunk of the vehicle.
Meanwhile, the newly elected head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdulbaset Sieda, urged government officials to defect. He also told Syrian youth to continue their struggle against the regime on all fronts.
He says young people know that the best answer to the recent massacres is to pursue revolutionary activities all across Syria and to demonstrate against the regime abroad.
Syrian state TV reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plans to visit the Iranian capital Tehran, Wednesday. Analysts say Russia is trying to arrange an international conference on Syria, to include the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in addition to Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institution says it would be a major mistake on the part of Western leaders to think that Russian President Vladimir Putin will stop supporting the Syrian government.
"Russia...is kind of an empire that lost its imperial range, and it feels great that everybody will have to pay court to them. So we will pay court to the Russians and the Russians will come up with the same result. Under no circumstances would (Vladimir) Putin give away the one card that gives him a seat at the table," Fouad Ajami said.
Russia and Iran are main allies of Syria's President Assad. Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions that threatened possible sanctions against Syria.