BEIRUT – Fierce clashes broke out between security forces and army defectors in several parts of Syria on Sunday, activists said, as opposition supporters launched a general strike to press President Bashar Assad to step down.
Pressure has been mounting on Assad’s regime from inside and outside the country as the death toll from months of unrest continues to rise. The United Nations says more than 4,000 people have been killed since March, when large-scale anti-government protests began, prompting a violent crackdown.
Some Syrians are fighting back, including bands of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army.
The Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group, has been warning for days about a possible bloodbath in the central city of Homs, where tanks are said to be massing and dozens of checkpoints being set up. The government denies an assault is imminent.
Syrian officials have from the beginning blamed the bloodshed on Islamic militants and armed gangs, which it says are supported from abroad. Assad said recently that the majority of the casualties have been members of the army and other security services.
As many as 23 people were killed Sunday as government forces clashed with armed insurgents and protesters in a number of provinces, opposition activists said.
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