Beirut: Six Syrian soldiers were killed and another 26 were buried with official ceremonies, as attacks by rebels across the country increased the pressure on President Bashar Al Assad’s army.

The soldiers died in Deir Al Zor in the country’s eastern oil-producing region, and rebel fighters also attacked a checkpoint in the village of Qusair in Homs, causing several casualties, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. Four security personnel died when an explosive device hit their vehicle in Idlib in the north, while army helicopters attacked rebels in the city of Al Rastan, the group said.

Syrian government forces have failed to crush a 15-month revolt in a crackdown that has left more than 10,000 dead, according to United Nations estimates. President Bashar Al Assad, 46, is fighting to extend his family’s four-decade hold on power. While more than 70 per cent of Syria’s population is Sunni, Al Assad and the ruling elite are in a minority, belonging to an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam that predominates in Iran.

Syrian security forces killed 21 people on Monday, mainly in Hama, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists. Twenty six army personnel were buried on Monday, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported. Fifty-three people were killed by security forces on Sunday, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, said on its website.

Using helicopters

“The government is using helicopters more often now because of major losses to its tanks,” Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a phone interview from the UK on Monday.

Heavy weapons are entering Syria through its borders with Lebanon and Turkey, Syrian ambassador in Moscow, Riad Haddad, said in an interview on June 1. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have publicly voiced support for arming the rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on June 9 that there was an “urgent” need for an international conference, which Iran could attend, to pressure both sides of the conflict. The international community remains reluctant to use force, and Russia and China have opposed harsher sanctions against Syria at the UN Security Council.

“It is looking more like Bosnia in the 1990s, being on the edge of a sectarian conflict in which neighbouring villages are attacking and killing each other,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview with Sky News on Sunday. “It is not so much like Libya last year, where of course we had a successful intervention to save lives.”

Russia has cited the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s military intervention in Libya as an example of what it sees as the abuse of UN resolutions to bring about a change of government. Al Assad has repeatedly blamed the violence on terrorists and foreign forces seeking to undermine the state.

In the 1990s, US, UK and French troops ultimately intervened to end the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, scene of the greatest carnage in the Balkan wars of that decade. The bloodshed in Bosnia was the worst in Europe since the Second World War and included the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.