Syrian troops on Sunday fought rebel fighters in the country's two main cities Damascus and Aleppo, as Iran acknowledged for the first time it has elite forces present in Syria and Lebanon as "counsellors."
The relentless violence affected the start on Sunday of the educational year, with activists saying few schools opened in flashpoint areas, including Aleppo, and the UN reporting more than than 2,000 schools damaged or destroyed countrywide since the uprising began 18 months ago.
Pope Benedict XVI added his voice to calls for an end to the bloodletting, urging Arab countries to propose workable solutions to the conflict, while celebrating mass in neighbouring Lebanon.
Violence that raged from early Sunday killed another 20 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that 115 had died the previous day.
Troops pounded districts in Damascus, Aleppo in the north, Daraa in the south, Hama and Homs in the centre and Deir Ezzor in the east with aerial bombardments and heavy artillery, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Among those who died were four men killed in shelling of the rebel southern Damascus suburb of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and seven others when a bus was bombed in Daraa province, cradle of 18 months of insurgency against the central government.
A child and a media activist meanwhile were killed in Aleppo, where the army and rebels have fought fierce battles since July to control Syria's second city and commercial hub.
In a rare news conference, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said in Tehran on Sunday that members of his elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, are present in Syria and Lebanon.