BEIRUT (AFP/Reuters) - Fierce fighting erupted on Wednesday between regime troops and rebels near Damascus and in Homs province, a watchdog said, while reporting 39 more people killed across Syria.
Also in Damascus province, government troops opened fire on mourners attending a mass funeral in Al-Diabiya, killing four, said the Britain-based watchdog.
In central Homs province, four people died at Qusayr, scene of earlier explosions, while another five people, including a regular soldier, were killed in the city of Homs, it said.
Two people were killed in the region of Hama when fighting took place in the town of Kafarzita between troops and rebels. Later, in Hama city, residents held a general strike to mourn the deaths of the two men. In Jabal al-Zawiya, a rebel commander was killed in northeastern Idlib.
In the same region, visiting UN monitors condemned the killing of 13 people whose bodies were found late Tuesday at Assukar, near Deir Ezzor, many of whom had been shot at close range, they said. A blast struck a pipeline in Deir Ezzor, according to the state news agency SANA, which added that the explosion led to "a fire in the area."
Blaming "armed terrorist groups," SANA said this was the second time the pipeline was targeted. At least 14 regular troops, the Observatory said, were killed on Wednesday when checkpoints in Idlib and Hama were targeted.
Meanwhile, world powers including Russia and Germany said Wednesday it was premature to speculate about a military intervention in Syria after France's president said armed force was not ruled out.
French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that use of force could not be excluded in Syria, as long as it was carried out with the backing of the United Nations Security Council. His comments came after Germany, Britain, France, the United States and other Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in the wake of a massacre at the weekend in which 108 people, almost half of them children, were killed in the area of Houla. But Russia, whose support would be necessary for any Security Council resolution, quickly shot down the idea of new UN action or armed intervention.
"We believe that a review now by the Security Council of any new measures on the situation would be premature," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency. "It is essential to give the plan of (UN-Arab League envoy) Kofi Annan time to work" because intervention could "only exacerbate the situation for both Syria and the region as a whole," he added. Another top Russian official said the idea of armed intervention appeared to be based on "emotion".
"Such statements are driven by political emotion," said First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov. "There is a medical principle that says 'do not make it worse'. We should not forget it. The most important thing is to remain realistic about what is happening in Syria," Denisov said. Germany also said it saw no grounds to speculate on a possible military intervention.
Others appeared to back calls for an intervention, however, with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders reiterating that his country would take part in some kind of "military presence", including security zones and a peace force to protect the UN's unarmed observers and help the respect of a ceasefire.
Australia also said Wednesday it was open to discussions about military intervention in Syria but warned of significant challenges getting it off the ground.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council on Wednesday held talks on the Syria crisis as two massacres in five days hardened international calls for action.
Ambassadors said they would be looking for signs of political progress or resistance from Assad after Annan's latest meetings. Wittig said the council should consider whether the UN observer mission in Syria is big enough, along with what he called "clear violations" of UN Security Council resolutions on Syria and the need for "accountability" for crimes committed there.
Meanwhile, UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan on Wednesday said the situation in Syria is "complex" and urged an intensification of international efforts to end bloodshed that has killed thousands of people. "The Syrian issue is complex, and the world is closely following developments there," Annan told Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh during a meeting in Amman.
Meanwhile, Syria has ordered the charge d'affaires of the Netherlands to leave the country within 72 hours, state television said on Wednesday, after a range of Western countries expelled Syrian envoys over last week's massacre of civilians in Houla.
The Dutch govt said in a statement that the diplomat had already left Syria on Tuesday. "The Dutch embassy in Damascus was closed on March 20 in protest against the violence of the regime. The ambassador was recalled to the Netherlands on Feb 7," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Washington slapped sanctions on the Syria International Islamic Bank Wednesday, saying it had helped the Damascus regime skirt sanctions placed on the country's leading bank.
Qatar is supporting the move with "corresponding actions," the US Treasury said, as the US and allies step up pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, accused of orchestrating a brutal campaign of repression against a popular uprising.