Clashes, shelling kill dozens in Syria

Associated Press
This image made from amateur video and released by the Syria media center Friday, March 23, 2012, purports to show Syrians pulling out the body of a man under the rubble of a building that was bombed in Homs, Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad says he will spare no effort to make the mission of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan a success but he demands that armed opponents commit to halting violence. (AP Photo/Syria Media Center via APTN) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL. TV OUT
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BEIRUT (AP) — Shells slammed into the central Syrian city of Homs Sunday, killing more than two dozen people, activists said, as Syria's government defied cease-fire demands and international efforts to boost the rebels.

Activists said heavy machine gun fire and artillery pounded the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bayada and Safsafa in the battered city, despite world demands on the Syrian regime to end violence that has killed thousands of people in the past year.

In the latest steps, participants at the "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting in Istanbul said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a multimillion-dollar fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime. One delegate described the fund as a "pot of gold" to undermine Assad's army.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States is providing communications equipment to help opposition members in Syria organize, remain in contact with the outside world and evade regime attacks.

The Syrian government blasted the meeting, calling it the "Enemies of Syria" gathering.

Damascus has consistently dismissed the country's yearlong uprising as a foreign-engineered plot.

Syria's uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests calling for political reforms. Dissent spread as Assad's forces deployed tanks, snipers and thugs to try to quash it, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is pushing to end the violence with a six-point plan that calls on the government to immediately pull its forces out of cities and towns and abide by a two-hour halt in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations, while arranging a permanent cease-fire.

Syria has said it agrees to the plan but has rejected what it actually requires Damascus to do.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said the government would not withdraw its force from towns and cities before life returns to normal there.

Leaders of Syria's scattered opposition have also rejected dialogue with the Assad regime, accusing it of stalling for time and saying it has killed too many people to be considered serious about peace.

Activists said violence continued inside the country Sunday and criticized the Istanbul meeting as a waste of time.

"The conference has to arm the opposition, the Free Army. That is the best thing they can do because we're tired of promises and initiatives. We're tired of it," said activist Hadi al-Yousef in the southern town of Dael, which has come under fierce attack in the past days.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 36 people were killed in military operations across the country Sunday, most of them civilians. They included four government soldiers killed in an attack on their convoy in the northern Idlib province.

The Local Coordination Committees put the number of deaths at 50, saying 18 died in Homs province.

Clashes were also reported in suburbs of Damascus, in the central region of Hama and in Daraa in the country's south.

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