International pressure is building against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime for its brutal crackdown on antigovernment demonstrators, with reports from fleeing refugees suggesting there is a sectarian nature to the violence.
But the United Nations Security Council remains deadlocked over a draft resolution that would condemn Assad and his regime.
Russia and China, which both have veto powers as permanent members of the Security Council, reported remained opposed to the draft resolution presented by Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal.
The draft does not call for sanctions or for military action against Syria but would condemn Assad's regime for the ongoing crackdown and urge the start of talks between the government and protesters.
Opponents of the draft resolution argue that it could lead to Western military intervention in Syria, similar to the campaign against Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi's regime.
Russia said it was against any UN resolution condemning Syria because such a move could aggravate the situation in the country.
Activists on June 14 called upon an online group of protesters known as the "Syria Revolution" to gather in front of Russian embassies across the world to demand that Moscow change its policies on the Syrian unrest.
'Remants Of Armed Gangs'
The failure to achieve consensus at the UN comes as the Syrian government said its forces were pursuing "the remnants of armed gangs" in the mountains and woods near Jisr al-Shughour.
Activists say Syrian Army forces are continuing a massive operation in the northern province of Idlib and were deploying more tanks to different cities.
According to online reports from activists, dozens of tanks arrived at the town of Maarat al-Naman. Those reports say troops also have been deployed eastward from Jisr al-Shaghour across 30 kilometers of territory up to the city of Ariha.
One activist said the Syrian army had killed at least six civilians as it swept through villages around Jisr al-Shughour on June 14.
Despite the violent crackdown on protesters, anti-Assad rallies took place overnight in several cities across Syria -- including Aleppo, Daraa, Homs, and the capital, Damascus.
On June 12, Syrian army troops backed by tanks and helicopters stormed into Jisr al-Shughour in an assault the government claims was aimed at "armed gangs" who had killed 120 security personnel last week.
But the opposition, refugees, and human rights groups say many of the dead were either civilians killed by security forces for protesting against Assad's regime or Syrian troops who were executed by fellow soldiers for refusing to obey orders to fire on civilians.
Refugees who fled to Turkey after the June 12 assault on Jisr al-Shughour say some army troops continue to defect and have been fighting against regime loyalists to protect civilians and property.
One 35-year-old refugee named Abdullah told AFP news agency he saw four tank crews that had defected and were firing at troops that were carrying out a campaign to destroy Sunni-Muslim dominated villages and towns in the north.
Describing a sectarian bias to the army's crackdown, he said the government troops were bypassing villages where most of the residents are members of Assad's minority Alawite community.
Reuters quotes other fleeing refugees who say they saw members of the security forces and Alawite gunmen loyal to Assad, known as "shabbiha," breaking into houses and shops in Jisr al-Shughour as well as other cities and towns.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian government has conducted "horrific attacks" against its own population.
"In Syria, the situation is very worrisome," Ban said. "This struggle has spread beyond any single square, any village or town. It has spread all throughout the country. People are shouting, sending out their voices for change. The government has responded with horrific attacks."
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Iran of backing Syria's "vicious assaults" against pro-democracy protesters. In a June 14 statement, Clinton stressed that Iran's alleged complicity in abuses coincides with the two-year anniversary of that country's crackdown on protests after the contested election that gave another term to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
The White House has already condemned in the "strongest possible terms" the brutal crackdown by the Syrian government. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Assad "needs to engage in political dialogue" and that he "should step aside" if he does not lead a political transition in the country by implementing promised reforms.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said "innocent civilians" are being killed by Assad's regime. Toner told reporters that what happened in northern Syrian "during the weekend and what continues to occur is absolutely revolting."
"These attacks on innocent civilians using helicopters, using tanks -- you know, it becomes increasingly clear that [Assad] has no intention of reforming," Toner said. "What I think we all need to do is, working with our European partners, with our partners in the region, is try to get more attention focused on what's happening in Syria and make it very clear to Assad that he needs to stop his abuse."
The United Nations, meanwhile, warned that at least 10,000 Syrians have fled the violence. UN humanitarian affairs spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said there are at least 5,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey and 5,000 in Lebanon.
Turkey's Anatolia news agency today estimated there are now some 7,000 Syrians who have crossed into Turkey. Thousands more are gathered along the border between Turkey and Syria ready to cross over if the area is approached by Syrian government forces.
Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians have been killed since the start of the uprising.
One group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says more than 300 soldiers and police have also been killed.
compiled from agency reports