Syrian rights activists say at least 19 people were killed Thursday as government forces cracked down on opposition protesters and fought with army deserters in several parts of the country.
The activists say 13 civilians were among those killed, mostly in the central region of Homs. They say some of the dead were shot by security forces searching for dissidents, while the bodies of the others were located after they had gone missing. Homs has been the center of the eight-month-old uprising against autocratic Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Associated Press, Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said an 8-year-old girl was among the victims in Homs.
Rights activists say attacks by suspected army defectors also killed six government soldiers, four of them in an ambush on their checkpoint in Idlib province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tells VOA several major towns observed a general strike Thursday in solidarity with Homs, where dozens of people are believed to have been killed in recent days. The rights group says the strike was supported by many private-sector workers and schools, both in suburbs of Damascus and the areas around Homs, Hama, Daraa, Deir Ezzor and Idlib.
Syrian rights activists uploaded videos to YouTube that appeared to show many closed shops and stores in those communities.
The latest casualties and strike action could not be independently verified because Syria bars most foreign journalists from operating in the country.
Arab League pledge defied
Rights groups accuse Syrian security forces of killing more than 110 people since the government agreed last week to an Arab League plan that calls for an end to violence.
Under the agreement, Damascus promised to withdraw its security forces from the streets and begin talks with the opposition. The Arab League will meet on Saturday to discuss a response to what it sees as Syria's failure to honor those pledges.
On Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman urged the league to take a tougher stance against Damascus as part of a global effort to force al-Assad from power.
Earlier this week, the U.N. human rights office said at least 3,500 people have been killed in the country since the anti-government uprising began in March. U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said Wednesday Syria faces a serious risk of descending into an armed struggle similar to the one Libya experienced this year.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.