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15 dead as fighting in Syria continues

BEIRUT -- Syrian troops stormed a central town and a northwestern region in search of regime opponents yesterday, activists said, a day after the government agreed in principle to allow the Arab League to send observers to oversee a peace plan proposed by the 22-member bloc. At least 15 people were killed, activists said.

The attacks on the town of Shezar in the central province of Hama and on the restive Jabal al-Zawiya region near the Turkish border came as pressure mounted on Damascus to end its eight-month crackdown on anti-government protesters. The unrest has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March, according to United Nations estimates.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and another activist group called the Local Coordination Committees said land and cellular telephone lines as well as electricity were cut in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the northwestern province of Idlib, where army defectors have been active for months.

At least 15 people were killed, around half of them in Idlib province, the committees said. The observatory had a higher toll of 16 dead and said they included two civilians and two army defectors killed in a clash with troops in Qusair near the border with Lebanon, as well as four members of the air force intelligence whose car was ambushed in Hama by gunmen believed to be army defectors.

Syria agreed in principle Friday to allow dozens of Arab observers into the country to oversee an Arab League peace plan that calls on the government to stop attacking demonstrators, pull tanks out of cities and begin negotiations with the opposition.

It was a significant concession from a hard-line regime that loathes any sort of outside interference. But critics say the government is only stalling, trying to defuse international pressure while continuing its bloody crackdown.

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