Syrian protesters living in Jordan holds a Syrian opposition flag and shout slogans against President Bashar Al-Assad during a demonstration at the first anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution in Amman. (Reuters)
By AL ARABIYA WITH AFP
Huge rallies played up support for Syria’s president on Thursday despite a new “massacre” report and a refugee exodus to Turkey as a deadly revolt against his autocratic rule entered a second year.
International peace envoy Kofi Annan, meanwhile, demanded answers from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime before the U.N. Security Council re-enters the fray in a conflict which monitors now say has cost more than 9,100 lives.
State television showed tens of thousands of people waving Syrian flags and Assad’s portrait in squares in Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, Suweida to the south and Hasaka in the northeast.
The cities have been relatively unscathed by the deadly crackdown on dissent.
Bahrain shut its embassy in Syria on Thursday and withdrew diplomats and staff due to worsening security in the country, following a similar move by Saudi Arabia which had also closed its embassy in Damascus on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Revolution General Commission reported a total of 76 people were killed by security force gunfire across Syria on Thursday, according to Al Arabiya reports.
The bodies of 23 torture victims were found also on Thursday near the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria that security forces captured earlier this week, a monitoring group said.
“Twenty-three bodies with marks of extreme torture were found near Mazraat Wadi Khaled, west of the city of Idlib,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in a statement.
The Britain-based group said the 23 blindfolded and handcuffed victims had been shot dead.
It also reported that security forces on Thursday killed nine civilians, including four in a car, and four rebels across the province of Idlib.
The city of Idlib fell to government forces on Tuesday night, two weeks after the regime stormed the Baba Amr district of Homs city in central Syria, following a month-long blitz that activists said left hundreds dead.
Syrian activists have compiled a list of 114 civilians killed since security forces launched their assault on Idlib on March 10, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
Following the Baba Amro offensive, residents of nearby neighborhoods reported finding the mutilated bodies of women and children. Activists posted video footage they said proved regime forces were to blame.
The government blamed “armed terrorist gangs.”
U.N. to join Syria mission
The United Nations said Thursday it would send experts on a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission, while U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the past year of “brutal repression” by Assad.
Participation in the Damascus government mission, which will go to protest cities Homs, Daraa and Hama where thousands have been killed, falls short of an earlier offer of a joint assessment mission.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos pointedly said that U.N. technical experts would be joining a Syrian “government-led” mission and again demanded free access to protest cities.
Amos said the mission would start this weekend and would also go to Tartus, Lattakia, Aleppo, Dayr Az Zor and rural zones around Damascus.
She said technical staff from the U.N. and Organization of Islamic Cooperation would join the mission “and take the opportunity to gather information on the overall humanitarian situation and observe first-hand the conditions in various towns and cities.”
But Amos stressed that “it is increasingly vital that humanitarian organizations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies. There is no time to waste.
“I repeat my calls to the government of Syria to allow humanitarian organizations unhindered access, so that they can help people in need, in a neutral and impartial manner,” Amos said in a statement.