- - Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Syrian troops pounded and raided rebel strongholds across the country Tuesday, as 36 people died in violence nationwide, a watchdog said.

Regime forces clashed with rebels before dawn in the battle-scarred Homs province where a soldier was killed amid “intermittent shelling” of the central city, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Columns of black smoke were seen rising from the area,” the Britain-based group said.

Meanwhile, in Washington a Pentagon official said the United States believes that three Russian ships carrying supplies and possibly personnel are preparing to depart for the Russian naval base in the Syrian port city of Tartus.

Capt. John Kirby added that any move to send arms to the regime would be “intolerable and unacceptable.” There have been ongoing questions about whether Russia was using the ships to provide arms to the regime.

Initial reports were that Moscow was preparing to send two ships. This was the first time officials suggested there were more.

The latest violence in Syria comes after dozens were killed Monday, while an estimated 14,400 people have died since the revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad broke out in March 2011.

A commander of the Free Syrian Army from Baba Amr said the situation was “very tough” in the district of Homs, which regime forces seized back from the rebels in March after a month of relentless shelling.

“We are still fighting, but we haven’t made it into Baba Amr today. Our aim is to take the district back,” Nasser Nahhar said via Skype.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said troops bombarded the rebel-held town of Rastan, in Homs province, from dawn with “fierce and continuous shelling.”

In the city of Homs, four people, including two rebels, were killed, the watchdog added.

Hama’s Arbeen district also was pounded late Tuesday as three civilians were shot dead in another part of the central city, while a loud blast was heard in the Andalus area.

In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, regime forces killed three civilians in Al-Jura neighborhood, the Observatory said.

Elsewhere in the same province, Syria’s oil hub, a pipeline was bombed, the watchdog said. An oil pipeline in Homs province also was attacked, it added but gave no further information.

In the northern city of Aleppo, one protester was shot dead, while regime forces also carried out raids and arrests in Syria’s second city.

Elsewhere in Aleppo province, a rebel was killed in clashes with regime forces.

Troops also shelled Douma, on the northern outskirts of Damascus, killing five, and also pounded Qalamun district in the same province.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, violent clashes broke out between regime forces and rebels in a village on the Turkish border. Activists said troops used artillery.