Syrian state television said today that an air force general was assassinated in a Damascus suburb, the latest in a string of attacks on high-level figures from President Bashar al-Assad's administration.
"Terrorists assassinated General Abdullah Mahmoud Al-Khalidi in Rukn al-Din," state TV said in a news flash without giving details. Rebels fighting to overthrow Assad have targeted top military and political figures. In July, a bomb killed the defence minister and Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat.
Meanwhile Syrian warplanes bombed rebel targets with renewed intensity after the end of a widely ignored four-day truce between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and insurgents.
International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has said he will pursue peace efforts despite the failure of his appeal for a pause in fighting for the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
But it is unclear how he can find any compromise acceptable to Assad, who seems determined to keep power whatever the cost, and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels equally intent on toppling him.
Major powers and Middle Eastern countries are divided over how to end the 19-month-old conflict which has cost an estimated 32,000 dead, making it one of the bloodiest of Arab revolts that have ousted entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Violence raged again on Tuesday when the Syrian air force pounded the outskirts of the central city of Homs, where rebels have besieged an army base, and the northern rebel-held town of Maarat al-Numan, which straddles the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
Rebels have been fighting army bases in al-Hamdanitya and Wadi al-Deif, on the outskirts of Maarat al-Numan.
Some activists said 28 civilians had been killed in the latest air raids on Maarat al-Numan and released video footage of men retrieving a toddler's body from a flattened building.
The men cursed Assad as they dragged the dead girl, dressed in a colourful overall, from the debris. The footage could not be independently verified.
The military has shelled and bombed Maarat al-Numan, 300 km (188 miles) north of Damascus, since rebels took it last month.
"The rebels have evacuated their positions inside Maarat al-Numaan since the air raids began. They are mostly on the frontline south of the town," activist Mohammed Kanaan said.
Maarat al-Numan and other Sunni towns in northwestern Idlib province are mostly hostile to Assad's ruling system, dominated by his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
"WE'LL FIX IT FOR YOU"
Warplanes again bombed eastern suburbs of Damascus and the army fired heavy barrages of mortar bombs into the district of Hammouria, killing at least eight people, activists said.
One video showed a young girl in Hammouria with a large shrapnel wound in her forehead sitting dazed while a doctor said: "Don't worry dear, we'll fix it for you."
Two rebels were killed and 10 wounded at al-Mubarkiyeh, a village 6 km (4 miles) south of Homs, where rebels have besieged a compound guarding a tank maintenance facility, activists said.
Opposition sources said the facility had been used to shell Sunni villages near the Lebanese border.
"The warplanes hit al-Mubarkiyeh five times this morning. Army bulldozers had already razed the village in March," said activist Nader al-Husseini by telephone from near the area.
Syria's military, stretched thin by the struggle to keep control, has increasingly used air power against opposition areas, including those in the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo. Insurgents lack effective anti-aircraft weapons.
There was no word on Syrian army casualties in the fighting.
Divided world powers have been unable to halt the violence, with Russia, China and Shi'ite Iran backing Assad, while Western nations and Sunni states in the region support the uprising.
The prime minister of the Gulf state of Qatar told al-Jazeera television late on Monday that Syria's conflict was not a civil war but "a war of annihilation licensed firstly by the Syrian government and secondly by the international community".
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said some of those responsible were on the U.N. Security Council, a clear reference to Russia and China which have vetoed three Western-backed U.N. draft resolutions condemning Assad.
He said that the West was not doing enough to stop the violence and that the United States would be in "paralysis" for two or three weeks during its presidential election.