BEIRUT -- The Syrian army has recaptured most of the northern rebel stronghold of Idlib near the Turkish border, pushing hundreds of military defectors out of a major base they had held for months, even as pockets of resistance kept up their fight yesterday.

The three-day operation to capture Idlib followed closely after a similar offensive to dislodge the opposition from another key piece of territory it had controlled, the Baba Amr district in central Homs. The two victories gave President Bashar Assad's regime momentum as it tries to crush the armed opposition fighters.

A pledge yesterday from Russia to continue selling weapons to the regime was another boost. A weekend diplomatic bid by UN envoy Kofi Annan to broker a cease-fire failed.

Still, international pressure is more intense than ever, with the United States considering military options. The Arab League chief said Tuesday the killing of civilians amounts to crimes against humanity and he called for an international inquiry.

Activists reported fresh violence in the central province of Hama near Homs, and in the suburbs of Damascus and elsewhere, killing dozens.

Human Rights Watch said troops have planted land mines near Syria's borders with Turkey and Lebanon along routes used by people fleeing the violence and trying to reach safety in neighboring countries. The New York-based group said its report was based on accounts from witnesses and the land mines have already caused civilian casualties.

"Any use of anti-personnel land mines is unconscionable," said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch. "There is absolutely no justification for the use of these indiscriminate weapons by any country, anywhere, for any purpose."

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