Activists: Syrian Forces Fight Defectors; 5 Killed

BEIRUT -- Syrian security forces clashed Monday with gunmen believed to be army defectors, and at least five government troops were killed, an activist said.

The fighting was the last in a series of small battles, mostly in the northwest of the country, which suggest that the seven month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad is becoming increasingly militarized.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five soldiers and other members of security forces were killed in the town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon. The town has seen clashes between troops and suspected defectors for weeks.

To the north, troops also battled with suspected defectors in the town of Hass, where 17 people were wounded. It was not clear whether civilians numbered among the casualties, according to the observatory.

Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso said there were also clashes Monday in the nearby Jabal al-Zawiya region, near Hass, but he had no immediate word on casualties.

The observatory also said two civilians were killed and six wounded in the central city of Homs during raids by security forces. The city has been a key focus of protests.

The Syrian uprising began more than seven months ago by mostly peaceful protesters looking to topple a regime that has held power for more than four decades.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of protesters taking up arms and of Syrian soldiers defecting from the military and turning their guns on troops. Demonstrators have held rallies to support the Free Syrian Army, a group of defectors which has claimed armed operations across the country.

The U.N. says more than 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.

The observatory also said protesters were gathering Monday in the northwestern province of Idlib to denounce the Arab League because it did not suspend Syria's membership during a meeting on Sunday in Cairo.

Gulf countries seeking to suspend Syria over the government crackdown failed to gain enough support to push the measure through, reflecting deep divisions among the body's 22 nations.

The Arab League gave Syria a 15-day deadline to enact a cease-fire. If Syria does not comply, the organization will meet again in an emergency session.