BEIRUT — Syrian government forces pounded parts of central Homs province Sunday in a renewed push to regain control of rebel-held territories, and activists said at least 38 people were killed by shelling there over the past 24 hours.
The main opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, elected a Kurdish dissident as its new leader in hopes of overcoming the disorganization and infighting that has hobbled the opposition since the popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The government assault focused on the town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon, where activists reported at least six people died on Sunday. Three others were killed in in shelling of the town of Talbiseh, north of the city of Homs, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The mortars came down on Qusair by the dozens,” said Abu al-Hoda, a Qusair-based activist. He said women and children have been huddled for days in basements of apartment buildings, too fearful to come out. On Saturday, 29 people died in violence across Homs province, according to activists.
Regime forces also unleashed a new round of heavy shelling and sent reinforcements to a mountainous area near the coastal city of Latakia, where hundreds of rebels have set up a base and fierce fighting has raged in recent days.
The fighting between government troops backed by helicopter gunships and armed groups in the area of Haffa beganTuesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Observatory, said at least 58 soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in the operation there since it began.
He said the heavy losses indicate the seriousness of the challenge in the mountainous area where “hundreds” of rebels are entrenched. His estimated death toll could not be independently verified.
State-run news agency SANA said “terrorist groups” in Haffa attacked public and private institutions on Saturday and committed “heinous” crimes against civilians, setting fire to the national hospital and forcing people to leave their homes. It said troops killed a number of them and arrested several others, adding it was still pursuing gunmen and working to restore security to the area.
Six children were among 10 people killed by a shell that exploded in a house where they had taken cover during the fighting in the region on Saturday, the Observatory said.
The opposition Syrian National Council chose Abdulbaset Sieda, a 56-year-old activist who has been living for many years in exile in Sweden, as their new leader. He was the only candidate to replace liberal opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun for the three-month presidency. He was elected unanimously during an SNC meeting Saturday night in Istanbul that stretched into early hours Sunday.