Syrian forces bombarded towns in the northern province of Aleppo on Saturday, as the conflict spilled into neighbouring Lebanon and opposition representatives in France welcomed the defection of a general who was close to President Bashar al-Assad.
“Regime forces are attempting to regain control over [the Aleppo] region, where they suffered heavy casualties over the past months to rebels,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, said. The group claimed 19 people had died across the country.
In Lebanon, rocket fire from Syria and gunbattles across the border left two women dead and nine people injured. A local official said clashes had broken out at dawn between the Syrian army and fighters on the Lebanese side of the border.
Syrian rebels and opposition politicians inside the country and abroad also continued to gather information about the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, a commander in the Republican Guard and close friend of Assad who reportedly fled the country last week.
In France, where Tlas was said to be headed, members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc which is based outside Syria, welcomed the defection.
Clinton’s remarks ‘totally unacceptable’
China and Russia separately rebuffed accusations by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, that they are hindering the resolution of the crisis in Syria.
Liu Weiman, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said Clinton’s comments, made at the “Friends of Syria” meeting in France on Friday, were “totally unacceptable”, adding that any attempt to “slander” his country was doomed to fail.
At the meeting, CIinton said the two countries should “pay a price” for helping Bashar al-Assad keep power in Damascus, remarks that were among Washington’s toughest yet in 16 months of revolt in Syria.
Liu said China’s efforts at resolving the crisis had won international support.
“On the Syria problem, China’s fair and constructive stance and its contributions toward diplomatic efforts have attained the wide understanding and support of relevant parties in the international community,” he said in a statement on the ministry’s website.
“Any words and deeds that slander China and sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain.”
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, “categorically” rejected “the formulation that Russia supports Assad’s regime in the situation that has developed in Syria”.
Clinton said at the meeting the only way matters would change “is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress, blockading it”.
Russia and China have repeatedly used veto power at the UN Security Council to block calls for Assad to leave power.
The two countries say they are committed to the peace plan drafted by UN envoy Kofi Annan which proposes national dialogue.
UN peace monitors effectively gave up on their mission last month after just weeks in Syria as it became clear there was no peace to monitor.
Liu reiterated Beijing’s stance that its actions were in keeping with the UN Charter and “the norms governing international relations”.
Rocket fire into Lebanon
The incident along the Lebanon-Syria border was the deadliest engagement in the area since the Syrian revolt broke out nearly 16 months ago.
“Nadia al-Owaichi, 19, was killed in the early morning when a rocket landed on her house in the border region of Wadi Khaled,” the security source said, adding that “the rocket came from Syrian territory.”
“Several hours after, two Bedouin women were killed when shells landed on their tents in the same area,” according to the source.
Nine others were injured, including three children, by falling rockets and exchanges of gunfire, he added.
A local official said on condition of anonymity that clashes broke out at dawn between the Syrian army and gunmen on the Lebanese side.
The Lebanese National News Agency reported that a number of children were wounded and several homes hit when more than 20 shells landed on the area.
Residents fled from several villages in Wadi Khaled “in a state of panic and fear,” the news agency added.