AMMAN - Syrian forces and militiamen loyal to President Bashar Assad killed 10 people in attacks on residential districts in Homs on Monday, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said.

"Tens of people have been also wounded. Security forces and shabbiha (militiamen) are rampaging in streets and firing randomly. Whole neighborhoods are besieged," the group said in a statement sent to Reuters.

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Syria saw its first major sectarian violence in four months of protests against Assad's rule when 30 people were killed at the weekend in clashes in Homs between members of the minority Alawite sect, who dominate the security apparatus, and the majority Sunni population.

Diplomatic pressure mounted on Assad on Monday after Qatar, previously a major supporter, shut its embassy in Damascus and the European Union said it was considering tougher sanctions.

Assad, an Alawite, has been waging a military campaign to try and crush the uprising for political freedoms, during which troops and security forces killed over 1,400 civilians and arrested over 12,000 Syrians, according to rights campaigners.

A 12-year old boy was among those killed in Homs on Monday the Local Coordination Committees said, adding that the attacks focused on the al-Khalidiya district of the city.

The neighbourhood is inhabited by members of Sunni tribes from rural Homs and is near the Alawite district of Nozha, where most of the militiamen and security forces in the city live.

Homs, a mostly Sunni city that has seen an influx of Alawites in the last 20 years as the community firmed its grip on the security and public jobs, has been a focal point of the uprising since the military stormed its main Sunni districts two months ago to crush protests calling for Assad to quit.

One resident of Homs, a lawyer who did not want to be identified, said tribal members in the Khaldieh area had responded to attacks by Alawite militiamen from the Nozha area on their shops by killing several of the gunmen.

"The Christians are staying out of this," he said. "Basically you have two armed neighbourhoods in Homs and the tribes are now starting to settle scores with the regime," the lawyer said.

"The magic is turning against the magician. The regime thought that if it feeds the tribes and allows them to carry AK-47s it will secure their loyalty forever," he said. "The repression, however, is turning them into insurgents".

Bodies of Assad supporters were returned to their relatives mutilated on the weekend, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Mohammad Saleh, an activist and a resident of Homs, said group of Alawite men, including four policemen, went missing on Thursday. The bodies of four of them were found on Saturday with their eyes gouged out. Six more bodies were found on Sunday.

Alawites make up an estimated 20 percent of the population of Homs but as a result of preferential treatment by the state, hold 60 percent of the public sector jobs in the city.

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