Syrian forces killed four civilians on Sunday in shelling of rebel areas and clashed with gunmen, testing a shaky U.N.-backed ceasefire as international monitors prepared to arrive in the unrest-hit country.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad subjected the Khaldiyeh and Bayada neighborhoods of the flashpoint central city of Homs to their fiercest bombardment since the truce came into force at dawn on Thursday, monitors said.
"The bombardment of Khaldiyeh intensified this morning with an average of three shells a minute," the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told Agence France Presse.
He said one civilian was killed in Khaldiyeh, another was killed in shelling of the Jobar neighborhood, and a third was shot dead by a sniper in Qsour.
Shabiha pro-regime militiamen also shot dead a civilian in the town of Aqrab, in the central province of Hama.
Three civilians died in Homs shelling on Saturday, among 14 people killed nationwide ahead of a U.N. Security Council vote approving the dispatch of the observer mission to monitor the truce.
Elsewhere, rebel fighters clashed with security forces in al-Bab in the northern province of Aleppo, near the town's State Security police headquarters, the Observatory said.
A police station there also came under fire, the Britain-based watchdog added.
Opposition group the Local Coordination Committees said the army shelled the village of Khirbet al-Joz in the northern province of Idlib, which is base to fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army.
It also said armored vehicles stormed the town of Dmeir outside Damascus, launching a campaign of arrests.
Thirty-two people have been killed since the ceasefire brokered by U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan took effect, most of them civilians, the Observatory said.
The death toll is sharply down on pre-ceasefire levels after Syria announced it was halting military operations against the rebels on Thursday.
But regime forces have so far ignored another key element of Annan's peace plan -- an undertaking to withdraw tanks from towns and cities, the Observatory said.
"Since the Annan plan took effect, there has not been any change in the level of military deployment. Roadblocks and tanks remain," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The first half-dozen observers from the advance team for the U.N. mission were due in Damascus later on Sunday.
Annan wants the mission's numbers to swell to more than 250 but they can only leave if the fragile truce holds, and need another U.N. resolution to approve their deployment.
The first group boarded a plane from New York straight after the Security Council resolution was passed.
The next 25 will come from missions around the Middle East and Africa "so we can move people quickly and they are experienced in the region," U.N. peacekeeping department spokesman Kieran Dwyer told AFP.
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