Syrian government forces pounded parts of central Homs province in a renewed push to regain control of rebel-held
territories, and activists said at least 38 people were killed by shelling there over the past 24 hours.

The government assault focused on the town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon, where activists reported at least six people died on Sunday. Three others were killed in in shelling of the town of Talbiseh, north of the city of Homs, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Abu al-Hoda, a Qusair-based activist, said women and children have been huddled for days in basements of apartment buildings, too fearful to come out. On Saturday, 29 people died in violence across Homs province, according to activists.

Regime forces also unleashed a new round of heavy shelling and sent reinforcements to a mountainous area near the coastal city of Latakia, where hundreds of rebels have set up a base and fierce fighting has raged in recent days.

Government claims

The fighting between government troops backed by helicopter gunships and armed groups in the area of Haffa began on Tuesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Observatory, said at least 58 soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in the operation there since it began.

He said the heavy losses indicate the seriousness of the challenge in the mountainous area where "hundreds" of rebels are entrenched. His estimated death toll could not be independently verified.

State-run news agency SANA said "terrorist groups" in Haffa attacked public and private institutions on Saturday and committed "heinous" crimes against civilians, setting fire to the national hospital and forcing people to leave their homes.

It said troops killed a number of them and arrested several others, adding it was still pursuing gunmen and working to restore security to the area.

Six children were among 10 people killed by a shell that exploded in a house where they had taken cover during the fighting in the region on Saturday, the Observatory said.

Damascus fighting

Activists claim more than 13,000 people have been killed in violence since the uprising began 15 months ago. International envoy Kofi Annan brokered a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect on April 12 but never really took hold.

Armed rebels have stepped up their attacks on government troops recently,taking their fight against Assad to the capital Damascus, which on Friday saw some of the most intense fighting since the uprising began.

In northern Syria, thousands took part on Sunday in the funeral for nine people who died in reported shelling Saturday night of the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province.

Amateur video posted online by activists on Sunday showed a large crowd taking part in the funeral procession. The victims were placed on makeshift stretchers which were carried in the streets as people chanted and mourned their death.

Source: Agencies