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Activists say 11 people killed in central, northern Syria
BEIRUT (AP) ' Syrian security forces killed at least six people in the restive central city of Homs on Monday, while government troops clashed with gunmen believed to be defectors from the military in several parts of the country, killing five including a Syrian soldier, activists said.
The violence came as the U.S. pulled its ambassador out of Syria, saying threats against him make it no longer safe for him to remain. Robert Ford has been the target of several incidents of intimidation by pro-government thugs. He enraged Syrian authorities with his forceful defense of peaceful protests and harsh criticism of a government crackdown that the U.N. says has killed more than 3,000.
A spokeswoman at the Syrian Embassy in Washington said Monday that Syria's ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, has been recalled in response. He left Washington Monday.
The opposition movement driving Syria's 7-month-old uprising has mostly focused on peaceful demonstrations, although recently there have been reports of protesters taking up arms to defend themselves against military attacks. There have also been increasing reports of defections from the military, highlighting a trend that has raised fears that Syria may be sliding toward civil war.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes Monday pitting Syrian troops against army defectors left casualties on both sides, but there was no precise death toll. Most of the fighting erupted in Houla, which is comprised of several villages in the Homs province.
About 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in the city of Homs, security forces killed six people, the observatory said. Syria's third-largest city, Homs has seen some of the most severe violence in the past months.
At least five others were killed in clashes in the northern Idlib province, where defectors are also believed to be active. They included a Syrian soldier and his son, and a man whose car was targeted by a rocket propelled grenade,
Other activists, including the Local Coordination Committees, also reported the deaths in Homs and Idlib.
The Assad regime has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent media coverage, making it difficult to confirm events on the ground. Activist networks with a wide network of sources on the ground and witnesses reached by telephone have provided a steady stream of information about the crackdown.