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Syria army pounds Homs as envoy heads to Russia

DAMASCUS--The army resumed shelling the central Syrian protest cities of Homs and Hama on Saturday, monitors reported, as international envoy Kofi Annan headed to Russia in the latest push for peace.

Mortar shells rained down on the flashpoint Khaldiyeh district of Homs continuously for two hours in the morning, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that it had no information about casualties.

Security forces also pressed ahead with a siege of Hama, which they began two weeks ago, the Britain-based Observatory said.

At least 33 people were killed in violence nationwide on Friday, including nine civilians who died in parts of Homs hit by gunfire and rockets, it said.

The bloodshed came as thousands of people staged anti-regime protests in hot spots across Syria and the European Union slapped sanctions on the wife of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, Asma.

As they staged rallies under the slogan of “Damascus, here we come,” eight people were wounded in the capital's Kfar Sousa district when security forces opened fire to disperse protesters, the monitoring group said.

Adding to the pressure on Assad, at least four brigadier generals defected in recent weeks, experts told a U.N. rights commission, saying this showed a growing number of ranking officials are abandoning his regime.

Investigators also had “harrowing” accounts of refugees fleeing the strife in Syria, where monitoring groups say more than 9,100 people have been killed in the brutal crackdown on the year-old protest movement.

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In this Wednesday, June 18, 2008 file photo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, left, and his wife Asma Assad look on after a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in New ...

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