DAMASCUS - Army shelling and gunfire killed at least 29 civilians in protest towns on Saturday, a watchdog said, as Russia pushed its idea of an international conference including Iran to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Nine women and three children were among 17 people killed in a pre-dawn bombardment of a residential neighbourhood in the southern city of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Dozens more were wounded, some of them seriously, in the city which was the birthplace of the uprising against Assad's rule, the Britain-based watchdog said.
In nearby Jordan, hundreds of Syrian refugees demonstrated in the border town of Ramtha to protest against the deaths in Daraa, Jordan's official Petra news agency reported.
Meanwhile, UN observers who visited the village of Al-Kubeir, where at least 55 people were killed earlier this week, said they saw blood on the walls and "a strong stench of burnt flesh."
Russia on Saturday pushed the idea of an international conference on the more than 15-month-old crisis in Syria, with the Arab state's ally Iran also given a place at the table despite US opposition. "We want this event to be effective," Lavrov told reporters.
Meanwhile, five Syrian journalists were killed in government shelling over two days as they covered the worsening conflict gripping the country, a US-based media watchdog group said Friday.
The five were killed in two separate incidents in Damascus and the protest city of Homs, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said.
Meanwhile, leaders of the exiled Syrian National Council met in Turkey on Saturday to pick a new leader after the resignation of Burhan Ghalioun last month to avert divisions in the opposition bloc.
Sources in the group said the aim was to pick a "consensus" candidate who would be acceptable to Islamists, liberals and nationalists. They said it could be Abdel Basset Sayda," a Kurd, and member of the SNC's executive.
The ballot came as Western powers moved to slap sanctions on Damascus amid mounting anger over a massacre in a central town blamed on regime troops and fears of a full-fledged civil war in Syria.