(MENAFN - Arab News) Violence in Syria killed four civilians yesterday, one of them a woman, a rights watchdog said, even as a UN mission charged with overseeing a battered truce neared half its planned strength.
In Idlib province, a stronghold of rebels fighting President Bahar Assad's regime, security force gunfire killed a man and a woman during a series of raids, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A third civilian was killed during pre-dawn shelling of the village of Mork in central Hama province, the Britain-based watchdog said, while a fourth was killed by sniper fire in the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor.
Troops clashed with rebel fighters in Idlib, in the flashpoint central province of Homs, in southern Daraa province, and in several areas of Damascus province, the Observatory said, without any immediate word of casualties.
The persistent violence came as the UN mission in Syria said it now had 145 military observers on the ground, just shy of half the force of 300 authorized by the Security Council. They are backed by 56 civilian staff. The observers are tasked with shoring up a promised ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan that was supposed to take effect on April 12 but which has been broken daily.
On Thursday, twin suicide bombings in the capital killed at least 55 people and wounded 372 - the deadliest attacks since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March last year. Al-Nusra Front, a group unknown before the Syrian revolt, released a video yesterday claiming responsibility for the twin bombings in Damascus.
The video says the Thursday bombings were "in response to regime bombing of residential areas in Damascus, Idlib, Hama, Daraa provinces and others."
Al-Nusra Front, which does not give a precise date for the attacks, says it has launched a "military operation in Damascus against the regime strongholds, targeting the Palestine branch of the security services."
Those were the buildings targeted in Thursday's bombings. The statement accompanying the video, dated May 10 but posted on the site yesterday.
State television said the army foiled an attempt to carry out a similar suicide bombing in Syria's second-largest city Aleppo on Friday.
Both Damascus and Aleppo have been hit by a spate of bombings since December 2011 but the attacks have escalated since the UN mission deployed. The main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council, has accused the authorities of resorting to the "terrorism" itself in a bid to torpedo Annan's peace plan.
Meanwhile, two Turkish journalists who were held in Syria for two months before being freed thanks to Iranian mediation arrived in Tehran yesterday, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Reporter Adem Ozkose and cameraman Hamit Coskun were flown to Tehran from Damascus, and the two men told Anatolia they were in good health and were about to meet relatives in the Iranian capital.
They will fly home to Turkey in the evening or today at the latest on a plane chartered by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the agency said.
Separately, the Syrian National Council (SNC), a fractious umbrella group opposed to Assad, gathered yesterday for three days of talks aimed at deciding on its own leadership and shoring up its credibility at home and abroad.
Two SNC executive committee members, Samir Nashar and George Sabra, said the council was discussing whether to reelect Burhan Ghalioun, its president since it was set up in exile in August. The Paris-based academic has been criticized for being out of touch with the opposition inside Syria and for failing to unify the SNC, which has yet to win full international recognition as the Syrian people's legitimate representative.
"We are in heated discussions over the presidency ... We are against an extension or a renewal of Burhan Ghalioun's term," said Nashar, a member of the Damascus Declaration, a faction within the SNC.