Fighting escalates in Syria; 140 killed

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BEIRUT -- Syria's army unleashed a barrage of rocket and artillery fire on rebel-held areas in a central province Friday as part of a widening offensive against fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. At least 140 people were killed in fighting nationwide, according to activist groups.

The United Nations said a record number of Syrians streamed into Jordan this month, doubling the population of the kingdom's already-cramped refugee camp to 65,000. The newcomers are mostly families, women, children and elderly who fled from southern Syria, a UN official said.

The exodus reflected the latest spike in violence in Syria's civil war. The conflict began in March 2011 after a peaceful uprising against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions that toppled leaders in several countries, turned violent.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed rockets slamming into buildings Friday in the rebel-held town of Rastan, just north of the provincial capital, Homs. Gunfire could be heard in the background.

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Another video showed thick black-and-gray smoke rising from a building in the besieged city. "The city of Homs is burning . . . day and night, the shelling of Homs doesn't stop," the narrator is heard saying.

Troops also battled rebels around Damascus in an effort to dislodge opposition fighters who have set up enclaves in surrounding towns and villages. The troops fired artillery shells Friday at several districts, including Zabadani and Daraya, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

-- AP

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