Syrian officials and opposition activists blamed each other for an attack on a gas pipeline near the restive city of Homs Tuesday, while a leading opposition group said at least 18 members of the security forces were killed in a separate incident.
The troops were killed in clashes in the city of Jasem when dozens of soldiers defected, taking their arms with them, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Their bodies have been taken to a government-run hospital in Daraa province, the group said.
Security forces have been conducting raids in Jasem and have arrested more than 100 people, the London-based group said.
Syrian officials did not respond to CNN requests for comment on the incident, and state media did not mention it.
CNN cannot independently confirm events inside Syria because the government restricts the activity of journalists.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said a “terrorist group” had targeted the pipeline near Homs, but activists in the city said the government blew it up itself.
“The regime did that intentionally. They don’t care about Homs; what difference does it make to them to have no power? We don’t have any of the necessities: medication, heating fuel, food. And garbage is everywhere,” said one activist.
Two others accused the government of blowing up the pipeline to distract Arab League monitors who are in the country to try to protect civilians from violence at the hands of government security forces.
The activists spoke to CNN by Skype from Syria. CNN is not naming them to protect their safety.
Another activist in the city of Hama said Arab League monitors there were surrounded by Syrian officials and security forces, making it difficult for locals to speak to the observers freely.
The activist said the city still has many checkpoints and security forces with heavy machine guns, and that tanks have not been withdrawn from the city — just hidden where monitors cannot see them.
Three civilians were killed by government fire Tuesday in Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said a total of 10 people were killed across the country Tuesday.
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad must relinquish power.
“Today, the massacres committed by the Syrian regime evoke disgust and revolt in the Arab world, in France, in Europe and everywhere in the world,” he said, calling on the international community to “act efficiently by unrelentingly denouncing a barbaric repression and ensuring that the observers from the Arab league have the means and the freedom to carry out their work correctly.”
His foreign minister, Alain Juppe, Tuesday expressed doubts about the Arab League observer mission in Syria.
“I am a little skeptical… Can they really access information freely? We await their report that will be carried out in the coming days,” he said on France’s I-Tele.
“But I do not consider the battle already lost,” Juppe added. “The secretary general of the Arab League has expressed the will to get to the bottom of this investigation. The truth must be established and the regime cannot poison the observers who are on the ground.”
The head of the Arab League will meet with the head of the Arab Human Rights Council Wednesday, an Arab League official said.
Secretary General Nabil el-Araby is due to discuss the monitoring team’s preliminary report on Syria with officials from five Arab League member states on Saturday night, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the press and asked not to be named.
El-Araby said Monday that the killing was still going on despite the presence of his observers.
“There is still gunfire, there are still snipers, and we hope that all that will disappear,” he said in Cairo, adding: “There is gunfire from various directions, which makes it hard to tell who is shooting.
“There is no doubt that killing is ongoing, but I can’t pinpoint the numbers,” he said.
Arab League observers entered Syria last week after the United Nations estimated that 5,000 people had been killed since March in an uprising against the government.
Al-Assad’s government says it is cracking down on armed terrorists.
The Arab League aims “to provide protection to Syrian civilians,” el-Araby said Monday, adding that it was asking for a cease-fire and for the names of detainees in Syrian prisons.
Nearly 3,500 prisoners have been freed, he said.
The Arab League has placed more than 70 monitors in six cities, and the number of observers will soon exceed 100, el-Araby said.