Gunfire and shelling have rattled a city in central Syria, killing a 12-year-old boy, as President Bashar Assad's autocratic regime expanded its military crackdown on a seven-week-old uprising, activists said.
The exact circumstances of the boy's death in the city of Homs were unclear. Like several other trouble spots, the government has answered protests there by sending in tanks and soldiers to seal it off, cutting phone services to leave it further isolated.
The continued crackdown suggests that Assad's regime is determined to end the uprising by force and intimidation, despite rapidly escalating international outrage and a death toll that has topped 580 civilians since the unrest began in mid-March, according to rights groups.
The government and some observers also said about 100 soldiers have been killed.
Authorities carried out an arrest sweep on Sunday in the coastal city of Banias, also a protest hot spot, taking more than 200 people into custody, including a 10-year-old boy, activists said.
"It appears to be designed to punish his parents," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The nationwide uprising has posed the most serious challenge to the Assad family's 40-year ruling dynasty.
The unrest was triggered by the arrests of teenagers caught scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls in the southern city of Daraa. Despite boasts by Assad that his nation was immune from the kind of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, protests against his rule quickly spread across the country of 23 million people.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has blamed "armed thugs" and foreigners. The regime has hit back at protesters with large-scale military operations, including an 11-day siege in Daraa that killed about 50 residents.
The weekend death toll there rose to six on Sunday, according to another activist, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal.