Syrian Forces Fire on Funerals, Battle Defectors

BEIRUT -- Syrian forces fired on funeral processions and clashed with army defectors Saturday, killing at least 12 people as France called on the international community to "save the Syrian people."

The 9-month-old uprising against Syria's authoritarian President Bashar Assad has grown increasingly violent in recent months as once-peaceful protesters take up arms and rebel soldiers fight back against the army.

Some of the worst bloodshed has been in Homs, the central city that has emerged as the epicenter of the revolt, and there are concerns that a renewed assault could be imminent.

In a statement, the French Foreign Ministry said that France was "deeply concerned" and warned Syrian authorities that they will be held responsible for any action against the population.

"The entire international community must mobilize to save the Syrian people," the statement said.

Despite the relentless bloodshed, Assad has refused to buckle to the pressure to step down and has shown no signs of easing his crackdown. The United Nations estimates more than 4,000 people have been killed in the military assault on dissent since March.

Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented local reporters from moving freely. Accounts from activists and witnesses, along with amateur videos posted online, provide key channels of information.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordinating Committees collected the death toll and other details of Saturday's bloodshed using a network of sources on the ground.

The groups said security forces fired on several funeral processions and that there were fierce clashes between soldiers and army defectors. Many of the dead were in Homs.

International military intervention, such as the NATO action in Libya that helped topple longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, is all but out of the question in Syria, in part because of fears that the move could spread chaos across the Middle East.

But the international community has pressured Assad in other ways, primarily through sanctions.

The Arab League has imposed economic sanctions and travel bans to try to end the violence, adding to measures already taken by the U.S., European Union, Turkey and others.

An Arab League official said the bloc would meet toward the end of the coming week in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria and an Arab-brokered plan calling for sending an observer mission into the country. Syria has agreed to the plan in principle but with several major conditions, including the annulment of sanctions against Damascus.