Bashar Assad
Bashar Assad Reuters

The new leader of Syria's exiled opposition called embattled President Bashar al-Assad on Monday to transfer power to his deputy Faruq al-Shara, the Anatolia news agency reported.

“Assad should leave office to his vice president,” Abdel Basset Sayda, who was named on Sunday to head opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council (SNC), told Anatolia.

He claimed the Syrian leadership was losing its control of the country day by day, adding, “The regime is able to maintain its control only over a few streets (in Damascus).”

The Kurdish dissident was elected SNC leader at an Istanbul meeting Sunday, replacing Burhan Ghalioun who stepped down last month in the face of mounting divisions that were undermining the group's credibility.

Violence has intensified in Syria despite a truce that was supposed to take effect in April.

International envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the failed ceasefire, said on Monday he was “gravely concerned” about the escalation of fighting in Syria, citing the shelling of opposition areas in central Homs province and reports of mortar, helicopter and tank attacks near the Mediterranean coast.

The Associated Press quoted Annan’s spokesperson, Ahmad Fawzi, as demanding both sides “take all steps to ensure that civilians are not harmed.”

According to videos posted online, fireballs of orange flame and black rubble exploded in the air as waves of shells pounded residential buildings in Homs on Monday. The shells whooshed through the sky amid sporadic machine gun fire.

There also were reports of fierce clashes in northern Idlib province, according to AP. Activists reported more than 50 people killed across the country.

“What we are seeing right now are fierce clashes as the Syrian army tries to take back positions held by the rebels,” Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AP. “There are many deaths in the rebel ranks.”

Activists said Syrian troops with helicopter gunships attacked Rastan, a rebel-held town in Homs province, and shelled other restive areas across the nation.

The Observatory and another activist coalition, the Local Coordination Committees, also reported government shelling in the southern region of Daraa, the northern province of Aleppo, along with suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and Deir el-Zour in the east.

On Sunday, heavy fighting was reported on the streets of Damascus. United Nations supervisors said opposition forces were attacking Syrian government troops as well as the electricity stations supplying power to the Syrian Army bases.

They activists also bombed six buses carrying soldiers loyal to Assad’s regime.

Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh warned on Sunday that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weaponsmay fall into the rebels’ hands, something which requires preparation on the part of Israel.

“Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons is largest in the world, and it has rockets which cover all of Israel’s territory,” Naveh said. “These days, the IDF must prepare to deal with threats to Israel's existence.”

Syrian opposition sources claimed last week that aircraft belonging to the Syrian Air Force dropped toxic material into the province of Daraa, which smells like sulfur and causes drowsiness and unconsciousness.

It was also reported that President Bashar Assad’s forces had used unidentified gas shells on civilians in Daraa, Hama and Deir ez-Zor.

In a meeting with the Druze community in the Golan Heights on Saturday, Deputy Minister MK Ayoub Kara was presented with evidence that clearly indicates the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, including photos of big black clouds suspected of containing chemical material that were fired over the areas where battles between rebels and regime forces have been taking place.