Anti-government protesters clap their hands as part of a funeral procession for Yaser Raqieh, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Hama June 5, 2012. (Reuters Pictures)
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's government banned 17 Western diplomats and its helicopter gunships pounded rebels in a coastal province on Tuesday as President Bashar al-Assad defied international pressure to halt his campaign to crush the uprising against his rule.
The declaration that ambassadors from the United States, Canada, Turkey and several European countries were unwelcome was retaliation for the expulsion of Syrian envoys from their capitals last week, following the massacre of more than 100 civilians by suspected Assad loyalists.
On the battlefront, rebels fought with government forces backed by helicopter gunships in the heaviest clashes in coastal Latakia province since the revolt broke out 15 months ago.
It was the second day of combat since the rebels declared they would no longer abide by an internationally brokered ceasefire, saying that the government had continued the repression in defiance of United Nations peace observers.
Rebel fighters said eight of their comrades were killed, while the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 to 20 soldiers were killed.