Explosion hits Homs protest
01:41 - Source: CNN/Amateur video

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Story highlights

Military defectors are executed in Idlib province, activists say

Shelling continues in several Homs neighborhoods, activists say

A suicide car bombing is reported in Daraa, where the uprising started

The bodies of journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik are handed over to Western diplomats

CNN  — 

Syria smoldered on Saturday as soldiers executed dozens of defectors in Idlib province and shelling persisted in the besieged city of Homs, activists told CNN.

More than 40 soldiers trying to defect from an army unit in Idlib province were executed by government troops, according to activists from the town of Binnish, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

The incident occurred at the Abu Athuhoor Military Airport when 50 soldiers attempted to defect, the network said.

A captain loyal to the regime got wind of the plan and thwarted it, telling soldiers he would join them, but then informing a brigadier general about the attempt, the network said.

The group said 44 were executed; their bodies were dumped in a lake. Six escaped, the network said.

“The Syrian Network for Human Rights places the responsibility of such criminal action on the commander in chief of army and armed forces (Syrian President) Bashar Al-Assad, the captain and the brigadier general.

“The SNHR demands an immediate international investigation for this massacre,” it said.

The LCC and the Binnish group said 47 soldiers were killed. There was no immediate comment from the government.

Military defectors pose a threat to the Syrian regime. Many have left the army because they have refused to heed orders to fire on civilians. Last summer, the Free Syrian Army, a resistance force composed of defectors, emerged. The group has said soldiers are regularly switching sides for the FSA.

As for Homs, the shelling and miserable conditions continued, opposition activists said.

And in the Damascus suburbs, more than 100 people were arrested, the LCC said.

The bodies of two journalists killed last week in Syrian shelling on the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs were delivered to Western diplomats in Syria, Red Cross officials said.

Reporter Marie Colvin’s body was handed over to Polish diplomats representing U.S. interests in Syria. Photographer Remi Ochlik’s body was transferred to the French.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered the bodies to the diplomats at al-Assad University Hospital in Damascus. Doctors there identified the bodies.

Poland said it is engaged in efforts to transport Colvin’s remains to the United States. France says it doesn’t know when Ochlik’s body can be taken to France.

Their deaths and the ongoing Syrian military crackdown underscore the hardships and dangers civilians face across the country.

“Where is the free world?” asked opposition activist Sami Ibrahim, describing a dire humanitarian crisis in the city of Homs and crying for international help. “The situation is very bad.”

Dima Moussa, spokeswoman for the opposition Revolutionary Council of Homs, called the government’s relentless push to pacify Homs a “suffocating siege.”

She said there was shelling in the neighborhoods of Bab Tadmur and Jib al-Jandali, and mortars were targeting Ashira.

Food is hard to get and electricity has been cut off, she said. There was no water in most areas and civilians were using melted snow and rain water for drinking. Snipers were blanketing the city and corridors in and out “are nearly closed off completely,” she said.

“The medical situation continues to deteriorate and is catastrophic, and all kinds of medicine have run out from field hospitals,” Moussa said.

The Syrian government has been seeking to shut down anti-government protests for nearly a year. It has directed its firepower lately on Homs, where many neighborhoods are bastions of the opposition.

Much recent attention has focused on Baba Amr, a neighborhood of five square miles (eight square kilometers) that endured nearly a month of shelling before rebel forces announced a “tactical retreat” on Thursday.