World Bulletin/News Desk
Syrian troops stormed into a Palestinian refugee district in Damascus, opposition activists said, after a four-day artillery assault on the southern suburb where rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad have dug in.
Assad's forces have preferred to use air power and artillery to hit areas where rebels are positioned and infantry raids normally occur only once many have fled. Activists said they feared for civilian inhabitants in the latest offensive.
Assad's use of military force to quell an uprising that began almost 18 months ago as a peaceful pro-democracy movement has cost him many allies in the Arab and Muslim world and caused a trickle of defections from Syrian government and army ranks.
Two Syrian diplomats in Malaysia announced late on Friday that they had joined the opposition, according to a report by pan-Arab television channel Al Arabiya.
Two men identifying themselves as First Secretary Imad Ahmar and Attaché Mahmoud Obedi from Syria's Kuala Lumpur embassy read out a statement on the channel declaring their "support for the Syrian people's revolution against the tyrannical regime".
But the defections so far are seen largely as symbolic and Assad has increasingly relied on a close circle of relatives and senior members of his minority Alawite sect dominating the ruling elite to maintain his grip on power.
Syrian activist Abu Yasser al-Shami said that his friends living in Yarmouk, a densely populated Palestinian refugee camp where 10 people were killed on Friday in shelling, had fled the area on Saturday morning after government troops swept in.
"Assad's forces stormed al-Basel hospital in Yarmouk Camp and arrested many of the injured civilians," he said over Skype.
When insurgents thrust into central parts of the capital in July, they were swiftly pushed back to southern districts, like Yarmouk, where there is a thinner state security presence.
But residents complain that the army uses indiscriminate artillery and air strikes. Palestinians have been divided over whether or not to support Assad, but there are signs that more and more are now starting to back the uprising.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog based in London, said shells rained down on Hajar al-Aswad district, which neighbours Yarmouk, on Saturday.
It said 170 people were killed in bloodshed on Friday across the country, many of them in Damascus and northern Aleppo, where rebels say they control more than half of what is Syria's most populous city and commercial centre.
The Observatory says more than 23,000 people have died in an uprising that has lasted more than 17 months. Around 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
The United States has accused Russia and China of effectively prolonging Syria's bloodletting by blocking efforts at the U.N. Security Council to approve tough sanctions aimed at reining in the Assad government.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a summit of Pacific rim states that Moscow and Western powers remained at loggerheads over how to defuse the conflict - a diplomatic impasse in which Western officials say violence has flourished.
"Our U.S. partners prefer measures like threats, increased pressure and new sanctions against both Syria and Iran. We do not agree with this in principle," Lavrov told reporters. Russia and Iran are Assad's closest allies.
Lavrov said Russia expected the Security Council later this month to formally endorse an agreement brokered by former U.N. Syria envoy Kofi Annan which envisages a transitional governing authority for Syria.
Washington has angered Russia by going outside the United Nations to work with allies on the Syrian opposition's behalf. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Lavrov it was possible to return to the United Nations if Moscow and Beijing were ready to forego their vetoes and back stronger measures.
A bill desginating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization has been submitted to three committees in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Ozdil Nami said a lack of progress in negotiations was 'unacceptable' as talks between the island's leaders become marred by anger and argument.
"Hamas, relying on armed resistance, has emerged the victor in Gaza," Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanon-based Shiite Hezbollah group, said in a speech in Beirut.
Israel's military said it would hold fire starting at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) but would continue searching for tunnels used by Palestinian fighters.
The U.N. chief also called for an extendable humanitarian 12-hour pause to mark the beginning of the seven-day ceasefire, to which both sides later responded positively.
Both Moscow and Kiev have accused the other of shooting across the border, and Ukraine says missiles shot from Russia may have downed two of its fighter jets this week
"The federal government has requisitioned the services of the Pakistan army in aid of civil power in Islamabad," the prime minister's office said
Clashes were also reported in Jerusalem after Israeli authorities barred Muslims from performing Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Police said the bomb was left in a vehicle about 50 metres from a hotel in the town of Betong, which is popular with tourists from nearby Malaysia
At least 3 hae been confirmed dead, 10 rescued and 8 missing after an overloaded vessel carrying illegal Indonesian workers capsized.
Israeli air force dropped about 3,000 tons of explosives on the Gaza Strip in the first 15 days of the conflict, including 120 tons in the border town of Shejaia alone
Banned substances include gasoline and firecrackers, but also drinking water, cooking oil and yogurt.
Abbott said that Russian-backed rebels who control the area were tampering with evidence on "an industrial scale" and argued that outside police or possibly military forces were needed to ensure that did not continue.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said leaders should show flexibility so that political deadlocks could be broken and Iraq could confront militants.
State media said "millions" of people joined the rallies nationwide, which were called to mark Iran's annual day of solidarity with Palestinians.
At least three women and a three-year-old child were among those killed.