BEIRUT, LEBANON - Gunmen assassinated the brother of the Syrian parliament speaker Tuesday in a central Damascus neighborhood, the official Syrian news agency reported, as clashes between government forces and the rebels convulsed most major cities and seven defecting Syrian generals fled into neighboring Turkey.

The violence aroused new concern about the faltering diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. At the United Nations, the under-secretary general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, briefed the Security Council and told reporters afterward that the antagonists in Syria appeared unable to break out of the "military logic" that force will dictate the outcome. He also expressed hope that the Security Council could put aside its divisiveness and "act in a unified fashion" to help the special Syria representative of the United Nations and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is to brief council members later this month.

'Grimmer every day'

"Our overriding message is one of great concern," Feltman said. "The situation inside Syria is turning grimmer every day, and the risk is growing that the crisis could explode outward into an already volatile region."

The assassination victim, Mohammad Osama al-Laham, was shot while en route to work in Damascus, the Syrian capital, the official news agency SANA reported.

The agency attributed the attack to terrorists, the government's standard description for the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and said the motive was to deprive Syria of skilled loyalists needed in the country.

Al-Laham, the brother of Jihad Laham, speaker of the People's Assembly, held a doctorate in agriculture.

The assassination came one day after the funeral of Mohamed Rafeh, 30, a TV star who was abducted and killed, apparently by government opponents over the weekend.

Generals' defections

In Turkey, which has become one of Assad's biggest opponents, news agencies reported that seven Syrian army generals arrived with their families through the border town of Reyhanli in Hatay Province, escorted under tight security. The generals were sent to the Apaydin military camp, home to high-ranking military officers and their families who have fled Syria.

Turkey's Zaman newspaper reported that the latest defections bring the total number of Syrian generals who have defected to 42.

Government and rebel reports detailed clashes in virtually every major urban area Tuesday, extending what had already been described as some of the worst violence in months.

The mayhem included three bombs that exploded late in the day in Qudsiya, a working-class suburb of Damascus, according to SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with contacts inside Syria. At least 10 people died and 40 were injured, the observatory said.

It said the bomb went off in Zahra Square, near an area that is heavily populated by Republican Guards, an elite military unit whose members are drawn from Assad's minority Alawite sect, which controls Syria. The guards have been heavily involved in fighting regime opponents.

The bombings were part of a series of killings and attacks with booby-trapped cars that have targeted people or neighborhoods close to the seat of Assad's government.

The death toll nationwide was at least 159.