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Syrian rebels step up attacks, kidnap air force general

2 army colonels fatally shot while on way to work

This image made from amateur video and released by Shaam News Network Tuesday, March 27, 2012, purports to show a Syrians helping a wounded man in Homs, Syria.

Shaam News Network via APTN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

This image made from amateur video and released by Shaam News Network this week purports to show a Syrians helping a wounded man in Homs, Syria.

BEIRUT - Syrian rebels seemed to intensify attacks on individual members of President Bashar Assad’s security forces Thursday with state media reporting that insurgents kidnapped an air force general near Damascus while gunmen in the northern city of Aleppo fatally shot two army colonels as they drove to work.

The attacks, both in broad daylight, seemed to reflect an attempt by opponents of Assad to demonstrate that they can strike with impunity. Elsewhere, video posted by activists showed what seemed to be evidence of a fresh bombardment of the central city of Homs - a focal point of the yearlong uprising.

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The shelling in Homs, coupled with the daily tally of violence elsewhere, appeared to contradict assertions that Assad has accepted a six-point peace plan proposed to him by Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary general who was designated a special envoy to Syria by the United Nations and the Arab League.

Assad said in a letter quoted by news agencies Thursday that he would “spare no effort’’ to make Annan’s mission succeed but that it would depend on an agreement from armed groups to stop what he called their “terrorist acts.’’

The Aleppo shootings also seemed to underscore the increasingly violent and targeted nature of the uprising with attacks on places regarded as relatively quiet bastions of support for Assad. The state news agency, SANA, reported that four assailants in a car opened fire on the two officers, identified as Colonel Abdul-Karim al-Raei from the army’s Northern Command and Colonel Fouad Shaaban from what was called the military’s appointments directorate.

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The Syrian authorities accused the rebels of targeting “the national expertise and intellectuals.’’

The agency also said that an “armed terrorist group’’ - usually a reference to army defectors and armed rebels grouped in the insurgent Free Syrian Army - had kidnapped a pilot holding the rank of brigadier general while “he was heading to his job’’ in the countryside around Damascus. The agency identified the officer as pilot Mohammad Omar al-Dirbas.

Earlier this month, a car bomb exploded in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, a day after two similar bombings struck the capital, Damascus. The Aleppo bomb exploded near a state security office in a residential neighborhood, activists said. SANA said two people were killed and 30 were wounded.

Syria’s international isolation, meanwhile, seemed to deepen yet further as Belgium joined many other nations, including the United States, Turkey, European powers, and Arab countries, in closing its embassy in Damascus.

The Local Coordinating Committees, a Syrian activist group, said 26 people had been killed in the country by Thursday afternoon, adding to the more than 9,000 people reported by the United Nations to have been killed since the uprising began a little more than a year ago. The Syrian conflict has become the most sustained and bloodiest struggle of the broader Arab revolt against despotic rulers.

The activists, whose reports cannot be independently verified because of government reporting restrictions, said confrontations had been reported in many parts of Syria, from Aleppo and Idlib in the north to the suburbs of Damascus.

Assad’s exiled adversaries are meeting in Istanbul in advance of a gathering there Sunday of the so-called Friends of Syria - a coalition including Western and Arab nations seeking Assad’s ouster. The US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is set to attend.

The exiles, grouped mainly in the Syrian National Council, have not so far given a formal response to the Annan proposals but have voiced skepticism about its chances of success, referring to a proposal in November by the Arab League that Assad accepted without implementing.

“We know that there was a initiative of the Arab League and the regime pretended that they agreed, but what happened? There are more killings, mass murders, and no withdrawal of forces from streets,’’ Walid Banani, a member of the Syrian National Council, said at a news conference in Istanbul.

“So, it’s another way of going around and gaining more time,’’ he said, referring to Assad’s apparent acceptance of the plan, “so we hope that it’s not another maneuver by the regime and we lose more lives.’’

At a summit meeting of the Arab League in Baghdad on Thursday, Arab leaders refused to adopt measures calling for Assad’s resignation or to arm opposition fighters.

“The solution for the crisis is still in the hands of the Syrians as a government and opposition,’’ the league’s secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

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