- Associated Press - Sunday, June 10, 2012

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces pounded parts of central Homs province Sunday in a renewed push to regain control of rebel-held territories, and activists said at least 38 people were killed by shelling there over the past 24 hours.

The main opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, elected a Kurdish dissident as its new leader in hopes of overcoming the disorganization and infighting that has hobbled the opposition since the popular revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that he could not rule out a military intervention in Syria.

Mr. Hague told Sky News television that time was now “clearly running short” to implement international envoy Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan in Syria, and that Britain was already turning its eye toward what it would do if the plan failed.

Asked if his government had ruled out the use of force, Mr. Hague said Syria is “on the edge of collapse or of a sectarian civil war, so I don’t think we can rule anything out.”

The Syrian government assault focused on the town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon, where activists reported at least six people died on Sunday. Three others were killed in shelling of the town of Talbiseh, north of the city of Homs, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The mortars came down on Qusair by the dozens,” said Abu al-Hoda, a Qusair-based activist.

He said women and children have been huddled for days in basements of apartment buildings, too fearful to come out. On Saturday, 29 people died in violence across Homs province, according to activists.

Regime forces also unleashed a new round of heavy shelling and sent reinforcements to a mountainous area near the coastal city of Latakia, where hundreds of rebels have set up a base and fierce fighting has raged in recent days.

The fighting between government troops backed by helicopter gunships and armed groups in the area of Haffa began on Tuesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the observatory, said at least 58 soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in the operation there since it began.

He said the heavy losses indicate the seriousness of the challenge in the mountainous area where “hundreds” of rebels are entrenched. His estimated death toll could not be independently verified.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said “terrorist groups” in Haffa attacked public and private institutions on Saturday and committed “heinous” crimes against civilians, setting fire to the national hospital and forcing people to leave their homes.

Six children were among 10 people killed by a shell that exploded in a house where they had taken cover during the fighting in the region on Saturday, the observatory said.

Activists claim more than 13,000 people have been killed in violence since the uprising began 15 months ago.