Syrian soldiers raid a building as they search for rebels in a Damascus suburb on Tuesday. A human rights group has accused the regime of carrying out serious abuses. Image Credit: AP

Damascus: Rebel fighters were forced to flee the eastern Syrian city of Deir Al Zor yesterday in the face of a fierce army assault. The lightly-armed rebel forces have been forced into retreat across the country in recent weeks, with the army using heavy armour to chase them from towns and cities, chalking up its latest victory in Deir Al Zor, which lies on the road to Iraq.

"Tanks entered residential neighbourhoods, especially in southeastern areas of Deir Al Zor. The Free Syrian Army pulled out to avoid a civilian massacre," a statement by the Deir Al Zor Revolution Committees Union said. Meanwhile, security was tightened in Damascus yesterday after a spate of deadly clashes, activists said, as the UN Security Council prepared to thrash out a statement warning Syria over its crackdown on dissent.

Fresh clashes broke out in the capital while security forces killed at least 16 civilians in violence across the country, according to monitors and activists.

Abu Omar, an activist in Damascus, said security forces were deployed in force in most districts of the capital, especially around Abbasid Square, while they also raided several outlying towns, including Douma and Dmeir.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said gunfire was heard in the Qaboon and Barzeh districts, while the Local Coordination Committees, which organises protests, reported shooting around Arnus Square as well.

Elsewhere, four civilians were killed yesterday as a rocket hit their home in Homs and three others — a man, woman and their little girl — in Rastan, both cities in central Syria, the Observatory said.

It also reported civilian deaths in Homs and Hama, also central Syria, Deir Ezzor to the east, and Aleppo in the north, while a soldier was killed in Daraa, southern Syria, and a deserter in the northwestern province of Idlib.

On the diplomatic front, Russian support for a daily humanitarian truce had raised hopes of a breakthrough at the UN Security Council on Syrian crisis but Moscow yesterday made it clear its support of any UN statement was conditional.

"We are ready to back the mission of UN and Arab League representative Kofi Annan and the proposals to the government and opposition to Syria" Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

However, the council "should approve them not as an ultimatum."

More measures

Lavrov's comments came ahead of a Security Council meeting to discuss the draft which urges Al Assad and the armed opposition to "implement fully and immediately" Annan's peace plan.

The Western-drafted statement, which France submitted on Monday, says the Security Council will "consider further measures" if nothing is done within seven days of any adoption.

Ahead off the meeting in New York, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned: "We have no time to waste, no time to lose, because one minute, one hour of delay will mean more and more people dead."