BEIRUT - Rebels fought the army in northern Syria on Saturday, activists said, and Syrian dissidents abroad gathered to try to unify and project themselves as a credible alternative to President BasharAssad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fighting in Idlib province, on Syria's northern border with Turkey and a hotspot of the 14-month-old revolt against Assad's rule.

"Violent clashes are raging between Syrian regime forces and armed military defectors ... The sounds of strong explosions were heard followed by security forces using heavy and medium machine gun fire," the British-based Observatory said.

Violence has rumbled on despite a ceasefire declared a month ago by international envoy Kofi Annan and the presence of a UN monitoring mission now with about 150 observers on the ground.

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