March 27 - Syrian activists say there has been heavy fighting in Hama province and the rebel stronghold of Homs ahead of talks in Istanbul and Beijing. Paul Chapman reports.
Social media website footage shows what Syrian activists say was heavy fighting in Hama province. The footage, which could not be independently verified, shows grey smoke billowing from an old castle in Qalaat al-Madyaq against a backdrop of gunfire. In Syria's third largest city, the rebel stronghold of Homs, residents accused government forces of indiscriminate shelling. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 people were killed in clashes around the country, half of them in Homs. The fighting came ahead of reconciliation talks between Syria's opposition groups due to begin on Tuesday in Turkey. It's hoped the gathering in Istanbul will help form a common front in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. In a further push for peace, Kofi Annan, joint envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, has arrived in China. He's visiting Beijing after a trip to Russia, Assad's strongest backers in a year of bloodshed. The former UN chief is promoting a peace plan that includes demands for a ceasefire, immediate withdrawal of heavy armour from residential areas, and talks between government and opposition. Paul Chapman, Reuters