Syrian troops pushed a campaign to crush anti-regime opponents Thursday, activists said as France held out the threat of military action to halt the bloodshed that has persisted despite a ceasefire.
Two weeks into the truce, at least two people were killed in the town of Maree, near the northern city of Aleppo, and one man died in the village of Mohsen, northeastern Deir Ezzor province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Loud blasts and heavy gunfire were reported in Harasta, a suburb of Damascus, said the Britain-based watchdog, adding that regime troops carried out raids between Harasta and Barzeh, a district of the capital.
Activists reported clashes in other regions as well, including the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, in northwestern Idlib province and in central Homs.
Explosions and powerful gunfire were also reported overnight in Hama, where the Observatory said at least 12 people were killed on Wednesday during government shelling on a working-class neighbourhood.
Some activists have put the death toll from Wednesday's bombing of Hama at 68, including 16 children.
The unrest was taking place despite a ceasefire that has failed to take hold, with hundreds killed since it went into effect April 12.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Wednesday said the UN-backed peace plan was "seriously compromised" and held out the threat of seeking military action to end the Assad regime's brutal 13-month crackdown on dissent.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan had urged a rapid deployment of the full, 300-strong observer team agreed by the UN Security Council, and Juppe said they should be on the ground within a fortnight.
Without quick progress, Juppe said the international community would have "to move on to another step which we have already started raising with our partners, under Chapter Seven of the United Nations charter."
A Chapter Seven resolution, which can be imposed by the Security Council if member states think peace is threatened by an act of aggression, authorises foreign powers to take measures including military options.
Juppe pointed out however that such a resolution, which was also mooted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, was unlikely to pass, alluding to previous Security Council vetoes by Russia and China.
"The Damascus regime does not respect the commitments it made. Repression is continuing. Monitors cannot work on the ground. This cannot last indefinitely," he said after meeting Syrian opposition members in Paris.
"Things are not going well," Juppe said. "The Annan plan is seriously compromised but there is still a chance for this mediation, on the condition of the rapid deployment of the 300 monitors."
At the moment, there is an advance team of UN observers in the country set to number 30 by the end of the week.
Juppe said that May 5, when Annan is to present his next report on the peace process, would be a "a moment of truth."
If the UN mission "is not working, we cannot continue to accept the defiance of the regime" and the international community will have "to move on to other things to stop the tragedy."
He said he hoped Russia would draw the right conclusions from Syria's efforts to block the monitors' deployment.
Addressing the UN Security Council via teleconference on Tuesday, Annan said he was "concerned" about the violence surging after members of the advance team visit individual cities.
The former UN chief said Assad has still not fulfilled a promise to end violence and said the situation was "bleak" and "unacceptable."
Annan said he was "particularly alarmed" at reports that government forces had entered Hama after a visit by UN monitors and killed "a significant" number of people.
"If confirmed this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," he told the council.
The unrest in Syria began as a popular revolt but has turned into an insurgency that many fear could lead to all-out civil war.
More than 9,000 people have died since the revolt broke out in March last year, according to the United Nations.© ANP/AFP