DAMASCUS - Syrian troops on Monday launched an assault on the central cities of Hama and Homs, shooting dead six people, activists said as at least two were reported killed near the Turkish border.
The latest bloodshed came as the head of the International Red Cross prepared to wrap up a visit to Syria during which he sought access to prisons as rights group say 10,000 people have been arrested since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.
"More than 30 military vehicles and security forces raided Hama this morning and heavy gunfire was heard in the city," Omar Idlibi, spokesman of the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), told AFP in Nicosia by telephone.
In Homs two people were killed in the Al-Khalidiyeh district and a third in Al-Bayyada, while a fourth person was shot dead at Tell Kalakh in the Homs region, Idlibi said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights for its part said a man and his son were shot dead in the Bustan al-Diwan quarter of Homs as they rode on a motor scooter.
The Observatory said 80 people were arrested in Al-Khalidiyeh, where reinforcements were sent from Hama with four armoured vehicles and seven trucks.
The LCC spokesman also said that in Idlib region in the northwest a sniper killed a man who was trying to cross the border into Turkey.
A Turkish local source in touch with the Syrian community on the other side of the frontier said two people were killed and five wounded in an assault by Syrian troops on the village of Ain al-Beida.
Another village, Khirbet al-Joz, was also attacked and some 700 people were seen fleeing to the border, the source said.
The governor's office in the southern Turkish province of Hatay sent ambulances to the border to pick up wounded people from the incident, Turkish NTV television said, without specifying the number of injured.
Also in Idlib, the LCC said the village of As-Sabil was surrounded and arrests were made.
Near Jabal al-Zawiya in the northwest a grave containing seven bodies was found by locals, who were prevented by the army from retrieving them.
More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since almost daily mass protests began on March 15, according to the United Nations.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime says it is fighting "armed terrorist gangs."
Troops backed by tanks had stormed Hama on July 31, on the eve of the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. At least 100 people were killed, and the troops withdrew 10 days later.
The protest hub of Homs also witnessed violence Sunday as 15 people were wounded when troops and security forces opened fire as part of an operation launched Saturday night, activists said.
"The Syrian authorities have granted the ICRC access to a place of detention for the first time," ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger, who held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, said in a statement.
He said the ICRC was able to visit the Damascus Central Prison in the suburb of Adra on Sunday.
"Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the Ministry of the Interior, and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees," Kellenberger said.
"This is an important step forward for our humanitarian activities in Syria," he said.
During talks with Assad, Kellenberger said he discussed the use of force by security forces and the need to respect the physical and psychological well-being of the detainees, as well as the latest developments in the country since his last visit in June.
"The purpose of these visits ... is to ensure that detainees are treated humanely and that their dignity is respected and preserved," the ICRC said.
Kellenberger also said that his main concern was to ensure that the wounded and sick are able to obtain medical care.
He is to be followed soon by Arab League secretary general Nabil al-Arabi, who said Sunday that Damascus had now agreed to a visit which he had announced a week ago after the 22-member bloc had met to discuss the Syrian crisis.
Syria said an August 27 statement passed by Arab League foreign ministers on the country's deadly unrest contained "unacceptable and biased language," leaving Arabi to await a green light to visit.
The Arab foreign ministers called for an "end to the spilling of blood and (for Syria) to follow the way of reason before it is too late."
Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said Monday that Syrians are determined to keep protesting against Assad's regime despite the deadly crackdown.
"The killing is nearly daily. But it's clear that the Syrian people will not turn back on their demands," Sheikh Hamad told pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera.
Tehran reiterated its hope Monday that the crisis in Syria, its main ally in the region, could be resolved "through dialogue and not violence."
Iran "is certain that the Syrian people and the government have the capacity to gain national development through dialogue and refraining from any violence," Hassan Ghashghavi, deputy foreign minister in charge of consular affairs, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
Iran is concerned about the possible collapse of its principal ally in the Middle East and has never condemned the violence of the regime in Damascus in suppressing mass protests.
It accuses its traditional foes Israel and the United States of stirring up trouble in Syria.