DAMASCUS // International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to travel to Damascus today to meet Syria's president Bashar Al Assad, an Arab diplomat in Cairo said, as fresh bloodshed gripped the north of the country.
Rebels killed at least 18 soldiers in a car bomb and ground attack on a military position in Idlib province in the north-west of the country yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Separately, four Syrian Armenians were killed and 13 wounded in the war-battered commercial capital Aleppo on the way home from the airport after a trip to Yerevan.
Overall, at least 44 people - 22 soldiers, 17 civilians and five rebels - died in Syria yesterday, the Observatory said.
Mr Brahimi, replacing former UN chief Kofi Annan who quit in August over UN Security Council divisions on the conflict that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months, kicked off his peace mission with talks in Cairo. Speaking of the assault in Idlib, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said "there were 70 to 100 soldiers there when the attack occurred" in the town of Saraqeb.
"Twenty soldiers escaped, and clashes are still going on," he said.
Over the past several weeks, rebels have taken to attacking military airfields in an attempt to prevent them from being used for launching air strikes, while commercial facilities have been left unscathed.
Meanwhile, the army shelled a string of neighbourhoods in central Aleppo, including Suleiman Al Halabi, Sheikh Khodr and Qadi Askar, the Britain-based Observatory said. Helicopter gunships also strafed the rebel district of Bustan Al Barsha, a witness said, and the Observatory reported that rebels used rocket-propelled grenades to attack a security branch in the adjacent Midan neighbourhood.
Elsewhere, a boy and a girl were killed and dozens of civilians wounded when the army shelled the rebel village of Latamneh in the central province of Hama, said the Observatory, which gathers its information from a wide network of activists.
Also in Hama, the Observatory reported yesterday afternoon that 20 bodies, including those of two children, had been found in farmlands in Halfaya village over the previous 24 hours, following an assault by government forces.
Jordan's King Abdullah II said yesterday he was "extremely worried about the risk of a fragmentation of Syria. Over the past few months we have witnessed an increase in sectarian violence".
During an interview at his palace in Amman, the king called for "a formula for a political transition where all components of Syrian society, including the Alawites, feel that they have a stake in the country's future".
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press