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Red Crescent official shot dead in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent branch in the northern town of Idlib was shot dead Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, and activists reported deadly clashes elsewhere between government forces and army defectors.

Abdulrazak Jbero was on his way by from Damascus to Idlib when he was shot, said Hicham Hassan, an ICRC spokesman in Geneva. An ICRC statement said he was riding in a “vehicle clearly marked with a Red Crescent emblem” and expressed shock at the killing.

Syria’s state-run media blamed “terrorists” for the attack.

President Bashar Assad’s regime claims terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy are behind the country’s 10-month-old uprising, not protesters seeking change in one of the region’s most autocratic states.

The Syrian revolt, which began 10 months ago with largely peaceful protests, has grown increasingly militarized in recent months, as frustrated regime opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight back against government forces.

On Wednesday, government forces clashed with army defectors and stormed rebellious districts in central Syria, firing mortars and deploying snipers in violence that killed at least seven people, including a mother and her 5-year-old child, activists said.

Pressure on Syria to end 10 months of bloodshed has so far produced few results. Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia have pulled out of the Arab League’s observers mission, asking the U.N. Security Council to intervene. Decisive action from the U.N. appeared unlikely, however, as Russia, a strong Syrian ally, has opposed moves like sanctions.

While Syria has approved extension of the observers’ presence for another month, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem signaled on Tuesday the crackdown on protests will continue, insisting that Syria will solve its own problems.

A Syrian military assault near Hama began Tuesday night, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists and opposition members. Shells slammed into several districts around Hama’s Bab Qebli area, the LCC said.

“It was impossible to rescue the wounded due to the ongoing arbitrary shelling,” the group said in a statement.

Two people were killed by sniper fire, according to the LCC and another opposition group, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In the town of Qusair near the central city of Homs, a woman and her 5-year-old child were killed when a shell struck their home during clashes between government troops and gunmen believed to be army defectors, both groups said.

Three other people were killed during raids in a Damascus suburbs.

The Arab strategy to solve the crisis appears to be collapsing. After announcing their pullout from the observers mission, Gulf Arab countries urged the U.N. Security Council to take all “necessary measures” to force the country to implement a League peace plan announced Sunday to create a national unity government in two months.

Damascus has rejected the plan as a violation of national sovereignty.

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