BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces clashed with army defectors in the country's north on Wednesday, causing casualties and further enflaming an area near the Turkish border where rebel fighters have tried to seize territory, activists said.
Syria's persistent bloodshed has tarnished efforts by a U.N. team of observers to salvage a truce that started to unravel almost as soon as it was supposed to begin on April 12.
Human Rights Watch accused President Bashar Assad's regime of war crimes during an offensive ahead of the truce, further throwing into doubt his commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Despite the violence, the international community still sees the peace plan as the last chance to prevent Syria from falling into civil war — in part because no country wants to intervene militarily.
Mission spokesman Neeraj Singh said 31 U.N. military observers are now in Syria. Observers have been posted in the cities of Idlib, Hama, Homs and Dara, he said.
Amateur videos posted online showed them in parts of Homs and the town of Binnish in the north. In a video from Homs, two white U.N. Land Cruisers are stopped near a decomposing body near piles of trash. Gunshots are heard nearby. The veracity of the videos could not be independently confirmed.
Syria's state news agency said the observers visited parts of Hama in central Syria.
The two sides have blamed each other for thwarting the truce, with Assad's forces trying to repress demonstrators calling for him to step down and an armed rebellion that has sprung up as peaceful protests have proved ineffective against his forces. The U.N. says 9,000 people have died since the uprising began in March 2011.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 members of the Syrian security forces, including two officers, were killed in an ambush by rebels in al-Raai. It said two army defectors also died in the clashes. The figures could not be independently confirmed.
Syria's official news agency said a member of the country's security forces was killed and three others wounded in a roadside bomb explosion in the central province of Hama. SANA said the bombing on a road between the towns of Tibet al-Imam and al-Latamneh was carried out by a "terrorist" group — a phrase authorities use for rebels fighting the regime.
In its report, Human Rights Watch detailed violence committed by government forces in northern Syria in a two-week period leading up to the cease-fire, bringing into question whether Assad simply used the time ahead of the truce to tighten his grip on power.