UK & World News
Syria Denies Top Official Has Defected
The Syrian government has denied widespread reports that top regime official Vice President Faruq al Shara has defected and joined the opposition.
Vice foreign minister Faisal Makded told Sky News that Mr Shara was still working for the government and had not left the country.
Mr Shara, 73, is the most powerful Sunni Muslim figure in President Bashar al Assad's minority Alawite-led regime, which has been hit hard by a string of defections including former prime minister Riad Hijab.
Mr Makded also said rebel forces in Damascus and Aleppo would be "defeated very soon".
Meanwhile, the United Nations says it will not leave Syria as the number of refugees fleeing the violence surged to more than 170,000.
Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, head of the UN supervision mission, said: "We will assist the move from violence to peace. The UN will stay, triggering dialogue between the parties."
He spoke out as the bloodshed continued in cities across the country.
Earlier, Syrian rebels clashed with government forces at one of the country's main crossings into Turkey.
An army convoy heading to the Bab al Hawa border was ambushed by opposition fighters. Footage appears to show rebels shooting at military tanks and helicopters.
In the nearby city of Aleppo, Syrian jets continued to strike residential areas, reportedly killing a woman and three children.
Jets also bombed the town of Aazaz on Friday, just days after an air strike that flattened homes and killed at least 40 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Fighting has also been reported in the central city of Homs and the southern city of Herak. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 129 people were killed in violence on Friday alone.
The intensified fighting has sent thousands more Syrians fleeing into neighbouring countries as the divided international community appears powerless to act.
More than 170,000 Syrians have sought sanctuary in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq - at least 12,000 of them in the last three days - leading to a growing humanitarian crisis, the UN said.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called for President Bashar al Assad's regime to be "smashed fast" as he visited the largest of the refugee camps in Turkey.
"After hearing the refugees and their account of the massacres of the regime, Mr Bashar al Assad doesn't deserve to be on this earth," he said.
Russia has rejected a proposal to set up no-fly zones to help fleeing civilians after the US said it was ready to consider the move.
"You have to solve citizen security issues using methods put in practice by international humanitarian law," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Sky News Arabia.
"But if you try to create no-fly zones and safety zones for military purposes by citing an international crisis - this is unacceptable."
On Friday, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, 78, took over as international envoy from Kofi Annan, who quit after the failure of his peace plan.