72 Killed as Clashes Rage across Syria

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Violence in Syria killed at least 72 people on Sunday, among them 15 members of the security forces who died in firefights across the country, activists said.

Security forces killed 57 people in several regions, including four children and three women, the Local Coordination Committees, the main activist group spurring protests on the ground, said.

Eighteen people were killed in Homs, 12 in Hama, nine in Daraa, nine in Idlib, eight in Deir al-Zour and one in the Damascus suburb of al-Damir, the LCC said.

The violence came a day after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad declared that those seeking its ouster had been defeated and that it was now focused on stabilizing the security situation nationwide.

The latest deaths come as dozens of representatives from Western and Arab countries met in Istanbul for talks aimed at pressuring Damascus to implement a peace plan by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to stop the bloodshed.

The heaviest fighting erupted in the town of Quriyeh in eastern Deir al-Zour province, killing five rebel fighters, four soldiers including an officer and a civilian, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A group of army deserters killed four other troops in an ambush on their convoy near the town of Jisr al-Shughour in northwestern Idlib province close to the border with Turkey, it said.

In the same province, a sniper shot dead a woman near the town of Maaret al-Numan and other fighting broke out near the town of Saraqeb between rebels and the army during a search operation.

The monitoring group said that in Daraa province in the south -- where the first protests against Assad's iron-fisted rule erupted in mid-March last year -- four soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels near the town of Jassem.

Another three soldiers who tried to defect during the fighting there were recaptured and shot dead by an officer, it added.

Security forces also killed two civilians at Um al-Mayazen in eastern Daraa province, and three members of the security forces died when their vehicles came under attack at Sem el-Julan.

Seven civilians were also reported killed in Homs in the center of the country -- six when districts of the city came under bombardment and one who was shot dead.

In Hama province, also in central Syria, four civilians were shot dead as security forces carried out searches in the Latamneh, al-Jabin and al-Zokat areas.

And in Hama city itself, three security agents were wounded when army defectors fired on their car, the Observatory said.

Soldiers also searched the Janoub al-Malaab district, threatening residents with arrest if they failed to turn in army deserters, it added.

There was also trouble in the capital Damascus, with a young man reported shot dead in the Rukneddine district in the north of the city, again during a search operation by security forces.

Another young man was killed in a raid by security forces in the town of Dmeir in Damascus province, where four other people were detained, monitors said.

In Maaraba village, also in Damascus province, a soldier was wounded in an attack on a checkpoint.

The Observatory also said government forces conducted searches and made a number of arrests near Douma, northeast of the capital.

According to U.N. estimates, more than 9,000 people have died in the unrest that began in March last year, when the protests against Assad's regime first broke out.

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