DAMASCUS: Syrian rebels shelled a key area of Damascus, home to President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority, embassies and government buildings on Wednesday, as they stepped up attacks on his power base.
Britain, meanwhile, said it was to open talks with the rebels in a bid to help end the violence, as the main opposition Syrian National Council said it hoped resolving the conflict would top re-elected US President Barack Obama's agenda.
Syria's neighbour Turkey revealed it was in talks with Nato over the possible deployment of Patriot missiles on its soil amid the escalating conflict, as the Arab League said Assad's regime would not stay in power long.
The shelling in Damascus of the mainly Alawite Mazzeh 86 district came as rebels increasingly target Assad's supporters in the minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Sectarian divides are a key factor in Syria's armed rebellion, with many in the Sunni Muslim majority frustrated at more than 40 years of Alawite-dominated rule.
State news agency SANA reported that shelling had hit a home and mini-bus carrying passengers in Mazzeh 86, which lies beneath Assad's hilltop presidential palace, killing at least three civilians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog that relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground, confirmed the shelling and said at least three civilians were killed and 12 wounded.
It previously reported a car bombing in an Alawite area of the suburb of Qudsaya on Tuesday that killed 19 people and another on Monday in Mazzeh that left 13 dead.
“The attacks on Mazzeh are a significant turning point because for the first time the Alawite community, which has never been targeted as such, is directly associated with the regime and targeted for this,” said Fabrice Balanche, an analyst with the Mediterranean and Middle East Studies and Research Group in Paris.
Fighting raged and air strikes hit in other parts of the country, while SANA reported that a judge was killed when a car bomb exploded outside his home in the northeast of Damascus.
In the town of Nabak near Damascus, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with explosives into an army position, killing six soldiers, the Observatory said, adding that at least 100 people had been killed across Syria on Wednesday.
It said more than 37,000 people had now died since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March 2011, first as a protest movement and then an armed rebellion after repression.