Syria’s pro-government troops pursued “armed terrorist groups” in the western Syrian city of Al-Qusayr on the border with Lebanon, Syria’s state TV reported.
Two servicemen were killed on Thursday in an operation against the militants, who “plant mines in houses and streets, attack city residents and law-enforcers,” the state-run Syria TV channel said.
Meanwhile, life “is gradually returning back to normal” in Homs, another city in the same province and a hotspot of the ongoing uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Syria TV broadcast.
Footage from the city showed streets full of people and open shops. However, some city districts are still blanketed in smoke, with shots occasionally being fired.
Reports vary about the number of casualties from the five-day “antiterrorist operation” by Syrian troops in Homs. CNN says a total of 105 people were killed in the shelling of Homs, while Agence France-Presse said, citing the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that 57 people were killed in Homs and four died near another Syrian city, Al-Rastan.
SOHR puts the overall civilian death toll of the “antiterrorist operation” at 400 people.
Syrian authorities maintain that militants are trying to “provoke a foreign military intervention” by firing mortar rounds at residential areas of Homs and “making fake videos to show that government forces attack residential districts.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, will discuss on Friday a draft statement to express serious concern about the violence in Syria and heated international debates on the issue.
The document calls on the United Nations and Security Council to abstain from supporting one side of the conflict and criticizes the approach by certain Western and Arab states who “predict the results of the political process in Syria, make ultimatums to one of the sides and portray the regime change as a vital precondition for solving the Syrian problem.”
At least 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian government's 11-month crackdown on protesters, according to the UN. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs affiliated with al-Qaeda and say more than 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
Russia has firmly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the uprising against his regime. Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, backed by the Arab League and Western nations, to prevent a repetition of “the Libyan scenario.”
A number of countries have recalled their embassies from Syria since early February, including Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, the United States and Germany. On Tuesday six Gulf states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors and ordered Syrian diplomats to leave their countries.
Libya’s Interior Ministry followed suit on Thursday, ordering Syrian diplomats to leave the country in 72 hours.