By Khaled Oweis
AMMAN (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad's forces killed three villagers on Tuesday in raids on rural regions across the country, activists said, and two members of the security personnel were reported shot dead in separate attacks.
Security forces also defused a bomb planted under a crude oil pipeline near the city of Homs, state news agency SANA said.
The villagers were killed in al-Kiswa region 8 miles south of the capital, where hundreds of police raided houses looking for protesters, Deir Baalbeh near the city of Homs and in Jabal al-Zawiya region near the border with Turkey, where army defectors have been taking refuge, activists and residents said.
In recent weeks those areas have seen major demonstrations demanding Assad's overthrow. The 46-year-old president has responded to six months of unrest with a military crackdown in which the United Nations says 2,700 people have died.
Tens of thousands of people have also been arrested, activists say, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Monday Syrian leaders would have to answer for crimes against humanity that he said were being committed in Syria.
Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, has said he is resisting a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria and the use of force has been limited.
Despite their resilience in the face of Assad's crackdown, Syria's opposition movement has struggled to close ranks and create a unified platform for protesters.
But last week opposition figures meeting in Istanbul took a major step toward bridging their differences when they announced the formation of a Syrian National Council.
That body won the important backing on Tuesday of the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots activist group at the center of the protest movement. "We support the SNC out of our commitment to unify the opposition and to eliminate the opposition's fragmentation," the LCC said.
Residents of Kiswa, mostly inhabited by refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, said in a posting on Facebook that security police fired rifles from rooftops to scare people, pickup trucks armed with machineguns patrolled streets, firing randomly, while houses were raided.
"Around 300 men were arrested since the morning," one of the residents said.
In the northern Jabal al-Zawiya region a policeman was shot dead by unidentified gunmen, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. SANA said a member of the security forces was shot dead by an "armed terrorist group" in Homs. It said three others were wounded.
Activists and diplomats say protests in Syria have been overwhelmingly peaceful, but there have been increasing reports of attacks on security forces by gunmen and clashes with army deserters. Authorities say 700 soldiers and police have been killed, and the same number of civilians.
SANA said army engineering units dismantled a bomb containing 25 kg of explosive which had been placed under a pipeline delivering crude oil to Homs refinery.
In late July Syria said saboteurs blew up an oil export pipeline linking Syria's oilfields to the Mediterranean.
A resident of Homs, who gave his name as Fares, said more barricades and checkpoints manned by troops and gunmen loyal to Assad had been set up in densely populated central districts on the outskirts of the city in the last 24 hours.
That followed large demonstrations on Monday and fighting between army defectors and much larger Assad loyalists in the countryside, during which two deserters were killed.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut; Editing by Louise Ireland)