Three Killed as Syrian Artillery Strikes North Lebanon

Residents of Wadi Khaled region said several mortarbombs started falling on farm buildings near the border at around 2 A.M.; China denies U.S, criticism it is hampering efforts to end the conflict.

Syrian artillery hit villages in northern Lebanon on Saturday killing two women and a man and wounding scores more after opposition rebels crossed the border into Lebanon, residents said.

Residents of the Wadi Khaled region said several mortar
bombs started falling on farm buildings five to 20 km from the border at around 2 A.M.

At midday on Saturday villagers reported more explosions and said they heard gunfire close to the border.

Syrian rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad have used northern Lebanon as a base and Syrian forces have at times bombed villages and even crossed the border in pursuit of militants, threatening to stir up tensions in its smaller neighbor.

In the village of al-Mahatta, a house was destroyed, killing a 16-year-old girl and wounding a two year old and a four year old, family members told Reuters. A 25-year-old woman and a man were also killed in nearby villages, residents said.

The Syrian opposition called on the United Nations on Saturday to boost its observer mission as concerns that the 16-month bloodshed might spill over to neighbouring countries increased on reports of the Lebanon shelling.

"The number of observers should be increased, not decreased. They should be armed to protect themselves and become a deterrent force at this critical time of the Syrian crisis," Burhan Ghalioun, the former head of the opposition Syrian National Council, told dpa from Paris.

Ghalioun was commenting on a report by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to the UN Security Council, in which he called for scaling back the unarmed observers mission in Syria. Ban also recommended that the mission, with a "reduced military observer component," be redeployed to the capital Damascus. He added that the smaller mission should instead focus on promoting political dialogue rather than monitoring a shaky ceasefire.

The Security Council must make a decision on the future of the 300-strong team by July 20. A UN source in Beirut told dpa that several countries with observers in Syria were threatening to withdraw due to the surge in violence in the Middle Eastern nation.

Meanwhile, China denied criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that it is hampering efforts to end the Syrian conflict by supporting President Bashar Assad's government.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement Saturday that Clinton's remarks were "totally unacceptable" and that China has contributed greatly to the cause of Syrian peace.

He said China has wide international support for its "just and constructive" stance on Syria.

Clinton said at a recent conference on Syria that Russia and China should pay a price for supporting the Assad regime.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing attended the conference. The two countries have twice blocked UN condemnations of Syria's government and last weekend worked to water down a transition plan by international envoy Kofi Annan.