Death Toll Mounts as Syria Marks Uprising Anniversary
VOA News March 15, 2012
At least 23 people are reported dead as Syrian forces continue a crackdown on dissent Thursday, the first anniversary of the uprising, while state television showed huge rallies in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 23 bodies were dumped in the northwestern Idlib region and some of the dead showed signs of torture. Also, activists say security forces carried out raids in several regions.
A state media report says government forces clashed with "remnants of armed terrorist groups" in the Idlib countryside, killing a number of "terrorists."
Biggest raid in months
With international efforts to end the crackdown stalled, Syrian government forces have overrun most of Idlib and launched their biggest raid in months on the southern city of Daraa - a town rebels call "the birthplace of our revolution."
Rebel fighters have been in retreat throughout Syria and a movement of opposition activists has been fragmented with dissent. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Thursday his country opposes arming the Syrian opposition, fearing the situation could become a "bigger catastrophe."
Unite for Syria
In a new effort, a group of 200 non-governmental organizations is teaming with celebrities and activists in a campaign to stop Syria's violence. The initiative called Unite For Syria is using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to highlight calls for international help.
United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council Friday on his mediation efforts. A spokesman for Annan says the envoy has remained in contact with Syrian authorities, after visiting Damascus last weekend.
U.N. council diplomats say Annan's assessment will be crucial to a bid by the United States and European allies to pass a resolution that would ensure humanitarian aid workers have access to besieged towns across the country. Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions condemning Syria.
Amin Saikal, the director of the Center of Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, told VOA he does not expect swift U.N. action.
"The international community, and more specifically the United Nations Security Council, is paralyzed on the basis of the Russian and Chinese opposition to adopt a position whereby greater pressure could be exerted on Assad's regime," Saikal said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called Thursday for the Syrian government to stop "indiscriminate shelling" of cities. It said witnesses described pro-Assad forces using machine guns, tanks and mortars to attack buildings and people in Idlib during the assault that began March 10.
As the government assault continues, Turkey said Thursday that 1,000 refugees had crossed into the country from Syria in the span of 24 hours, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees there to 14,700. Turkish officials say seven former Syrian generals are among those who have sought refuge.
U.N. officials estimate that 8,000 people have died in the year-long series of protests and government crackdown. The Syrian government blames the unrest on "terrorists" and outside agitators.
Syrian state television showed crowds gathered for pro-Assad rallies across Syria Thursday. In Damascus, people waved flags and photos of Assad. Opposition activists say Syrian forces prevented anti-government demonstrators from gathering in several cities.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
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