Syrian forces have attacked several opposition bastions despite a ceasefire pledge, according to activist reports, as Russia said the opposition would never defeat President Bashar al-Assad's army even if "armed to the teeth".
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops began shelling several towns and villages early on Wednesday.
"From the Turkish border in the northeast to Daraa in the south, military operations are ongoing," Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based group, told the AFP news agency.
"Tanks are still shelling or storming towns and villages before going back to their bases."
The opposition group said 58 civilians and 18 soldiers were killed on Tuesday in assaults taking place even as Assad pledged to implement by April 10 a peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Russia warns of 'carnage'
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Wednesday that under-equipped rebels would never be able to defeat Syria's military, and warned of "carnage" for years to come if the violence continued.
"It is clear as day that even if the Syrian opposition is armed to the teeth, it will not be able to defeat the government's army," the Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying while on a visit to the former Soviet nation of Azerbaijan.
"Instead, there will be carnage that lasts many, many years - mutual destruction."
Lavrov said that two groups of Syrian opposition representatives would visit Moscow in the coming days and that Russia would be using the meetings to convince them that it wants to help resolve the year-long crisis.
Annan on Monday told the UN Security Council that Assad had agreed to "immediately" start pulling troops out of protest cities and complete a troop and heavy weapon withdrawal by April 10.
The United States however accused the Syrian leader of failing to honour his pledged troop withdrawal.
"The assertion to Kofi Annan was that Assad would start implementing his commitments immediately to withdraw from cities," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Tuesday.
I want to advise that we have seen no evidence today that he is implementing any of those commitments," Nuland said.
Seeking to assuage some of the humanitarian concerns, Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, on Tuesday said his government would do its utmost to ensure the success of a Red Cross mission in a meeting with the organisation's head, Jakob Kellenberger, who was in Damascus to seek a daily ceasefire.
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|William A. Cook|