A Syrian official claimed gunmen have kidnapped 14 army officers in an ambush that left six soldiers and an officer with Damascus' security services dead.
The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the incident occurred on Sunday outside the town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon.
Qusair is in the central province of Homs, a focal point of opposition demonstrations against President Bashar Al Assad's regime, which began in mid-March.
Meanwhile, intense fighting has erupted between forces loyal to Assad and army defectors who have taken refuge in towns north of Homs and begun mounting guerilla raids on the regime, has broken out.
''It is the beginning of armed rebellion,'' General Riad Asaad, the dissident army's leader who defected from the Syrian Air Force earlier this year, told Al-Jazeera from Turkey.
''You cannot remove this regime except by force and bloodshed,'' he said, speaking by phone from the Syria-Turkey border. ''But our losses will not be worse than we have right now, with the killings, the torture and the dumping of bodies.''
Three inhabitants of Al-Rastan were injured when Assad forces opened fire with heavy machine guns mounted on the tanks surrounding the town, on the main northern highway leading to Turkey, said residents.
"There are around 60 tanks and armored vehicles on the eastern edge of [Al] Rastan alone. All communications are cut and the firing is being directed at the street and buildings," Abu Qasim, a resident of Al Rastan, told AFP.
The intense raids, backed by tanks and helicopter gun-ships, are aimed at rooting out increasing numbers or organized defectors who have joined the expanding opposition to Assad's rule in the country.
Assad has accused foreign powers – especially the United States and Israel – of using the unrest to destabilize the Syrian state. Assad insists any nation would use the same tactics as he has to maintain order.
According to the United Nations some 2,700 civilians, including 100 children, have been killed in the Assad crackdown.