Syrian armour moved against protest flashpoints and a general was gunned down in Damascus as the bloodshed there showed no signs of abating, even spilling over into Lebanon.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) said Arab recognition of the opposition umbrella group was imminent, ahead of key talks on the crisis in Cairo tomorrow.

In Aleppo, tension escalated as President Bashar al-Assad's forces stepped up security after twin car bombs killed 28 people and wounded 235 in Syria's second city yesterday, activists said.

At least 31 people were killed across the country today, mostly civilians, said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Tank shelling killed ten civilians in Homs, nine of them in the rebel stronghold neighbourhood of Baba Amr, Abdel Rahman said. Dozens were wounded.

Mr Assad's forces have waged a brutal week-long onslaught on the central protest city of Homs that has killed at least 500 people since 4 February, Mr Abdel Rahman said.

Homs activist Hadi Abdullah accused policemen and soldiers of pillaging the Inshaat neighbourhood. "They are stealing computers, television sets... and even blankets," he said.

Security forces also advanced into Zabadani, another main centre of resistance near Damascus, said Mr Abdel Rahman, adding that three civilians were killed there.

A general was shot dead outside his Damascus home, state media said. If confirmed, this would be one of the most brazen attacks on the top brass in the capital since the uprising erupted in March last year.

"An armed terrorist group this morning assassinated brigadier general and doctor, Issa al-Khawli, the director of Hamish hospital, outside his home in the district of Ruknaddin," SANA state news agency said.

Syrian state media, meanwhile, blamed "terrorists" for Friday's double car bomb attacks on security posts in Aleppo.

The rebel Free Syrian Army accused the "criminal" regime of launching the attacks "to steer attention away from what it is doing in Homs, Zabadani and elsewhere".