Aleppo: Deadly fighting rocked the birthplace of the Syrian uprising on Monday as rebels doggedly resisted a regime onslaught unleashed in the key battleground of Aleppo a month ago, activists said.

At least 44 people were killed, including two children in shelling in Daraa, the cradle of the revolution in the south of Syria, a watchdog said, as the United Nations brought an end to its troubled observer mission in the country.

New international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has said he is not confident of being able to restore peace, warned Sunday that it was now a matter of ending rather than avoiding a civil war after 17 months of bloodshed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported continued fighting on the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

It said clashes erupted between rebels and government troops in Daraa after several areas were shelled, killing 15 people, including two children.

Government forces using combat helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery have also been carrying out "savage" attacks on Herak, the opposition Syrian National Council said, warning of a humanitarian catastrophe as supplies of food and medicines run out.

Fighting also flared in several southern parts of Damascus as the army battles persistent pockets of resistance despite claiming it had retaken most of the capital last month.

The Observatory said troops backed by helicopters also pounded several areas of the northern city of Aleppo, including the Salaheddin neighbourhood where much of the regime's military operations against the rebels have been focused.

The commercial capital has emerged as the epicentre of the conflict since rebels seized large swathes of the city in an offensive launched on July 20. Government officials have said it will be the "mother of all battles."

Fighting was also reported near the city's military tribunal and the local headquarters of the ruling Baath party, the watchdog said.

The unrelenting violence saw demonstrators take to the streets of the capital and other cities Sunday to vent their rage at President Bashar al-Assad, as he made a rare public appearance for Eid prayers.

UN observers wound up their troubled mission at midnight Sunday amid a failure by world powers to agree how to respond to Assad's crackdown and bring peace to the strategic Middle East state.

Created by a UN Security Council resolution adopted in April, the team of some 300 observers was progressively deployed as part of then UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan to end the conflict.

Much of its operations in the field were suspended in June and its numbers cut back in the face of the mounting violence, as both sides violated a ceasefire that was meant to have been the cornerstone of Annan's plan.

The end of the mission came just days after the veteran Algerian diplomat Brahimi was named to replace Annan.

"A civil war, it is the cruellest kind of conflict, when a neighbour kills his neighbour and sometimes his brother, it is the worst of conflicts," Brahimi told France 24 television.

"There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria, me I believe that we are already there for some time now. What's necessary is to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy."

He was due to meet French President Francois Hollande later on Monday to discuss the conflict.

Assad, from the minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has characterised the conflict as a battle against a foreign "terrorist" plot aided by the West and its allies in the region, led by Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

But he has been hit by a string of defections, and speculation that more top officials were planning to abandon the regime.

Syria denied on Sunday that Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had announced on Twitter he had replaced Vice President Faruq al-Shara, after speculation about the fate of the regime's most senior Sunni official.

The official said the information was "wrong" and that Muallem did not have a Twitter account.

Syrian television last week denied opposition reports that Shara had defected, while a deputy minister who fled earlier this year said he was under house arrest.

Jordan said four rockets fired from neighbouring Syria fell inside its northern border area, wounding a four-year-old girl and sparking a letter of protest to Damascus.

The conflict has raised fears of a spillover into neighbouring countries, which are sheltering several hundred thousand refugees who have fled across the border into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The United Nations has also warned of a humanitarian crisis with more than one million people displaced inside Syria and up to 2.5 million in need of aid.

Meanwhile, the Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI's planned visit to Lebanon next month will go ahead, despite tensions linked to the conflict in Syria, including a wave of mass kidnappings.


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