Beirut: Syrian security forces killed at least six people in the restive central city of Homs on Tuesday, while government troops clashed with gunmen believed to be defectors from the military in several parts of the country, killing five including a Syrian soldier, activists said.
   
The violence came as the US pulled its ambassador out of Syria, saying threats against him make it no longer safe for him to remain.
   
Robert Ford has been the target of several incidents of intimidation by pro-government thugs. He enraged Syrian authorities with his forceful defence of peaceful protests and harsh criticism of a government crackdown that the UN says has killed more than 3,000.
   
A spokeswoman at the Syrian Embassy in Washington said on Tuesday that Syria's ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha, has been recalled in response. He left Washington on Tuesday.
   
The opposition movement driving Syria's 7-month-old uprising has mostly focused on peaceful demonstrations, although recently there have been reports of protesters taking up arms to defend themselves against military attacks.
   
There have also been increasing reports of defections from the military, highlighting a trend that has raised fears that Syria may be sliding toward civil war.
   
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes on Tuesday pitting Syrian troops against army defectors left casualties on both sides, but there was no precise death toll. Most of the fighting erupted in Houla, which is comprised of several villages in the Homs province.
   
About 40 kilometres away in the city of Homs, security forces killed six people, the observatory said. At least five others were killed in clashes in the northern Idlib province, where defectors are also believed to be active.

(Agencies)