NATO has said it will not intervene in Syria despite reports of escalating violence in parts of the country and the adoption of a UN resolution condemning human-rights violations by the government.
In the capital, Damascus, gunfire and loud explosions were heard on Friday while the bombardment of Homs by security forces entered a 13th day. Activist groups said tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets after the main weekly Muslim prayers, from Deraa in the south to Aleppo and Idlib in the north and Deir el-Zour in the east to areas around the capital, Damascus.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, an umbrella organisation of opposition groups, said security forces opened fire on some protests, which came in response to a call by internet-based activists for a rally for a "new phase of popular resistance".
They turned out after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed an Arab League initiative calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, and shortly before a visit by a Chinese diplomatic envoy.
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Zhai Jun, the vice foreign minister, has said China opposes armed intervention and forced "regime change" in Syria.
In Damascus, one civilian died and 12 were wounded, some critically, when they were fired on at a demonstration in the Mazze neighbourhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based opposition group, said.
The SOHR said at least 10,000 people demonstrated in the southern town of Dael, in Deraa, the cradle of the uprising which human rights groups say has cost more than 6,000 lives in the past 11 months.
Other rallies were staged in the towns of Jasem, Inkhel and Nimr al-Hara, where security forces wounded some demonstrators when they opened fire on them.
In Homs, rockets crashed into opposition strongholds at the rate of four a minute, according to one political activist who said the central Syrian city was facing a humanitarian crisis.
"It's the most violent in 14 days. It's unbelievable - extreme violence the like of which we have never seen before," Hadi Abdullah, of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution, another opposition group, said.
A tank fired into a residential part of Homs before bursts of machinegun fire clattered across the neighbourhood, according to a video uploaded by activists to YouTube.
"The regime troops are still shelling at the moment but are reluctant to enter Baba Amr. They are on the periphery and are moving slowly. The army will lose if it begins urban warfare," Omar Shakir, a prominent activist, said.
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International rights groups have estimated that the assault on Homs has killed almost 400 people, and a medic reached on Skype said 1,800 have been wounded.
"There are injuries that cannot be treated because of a lack of medical equipment," Ali al-Hazzuri said.
"There are casualties who are close to dying."
Nine bodies of unidentified people were found on Friday morning in Homs, according to the SOHR, which also reported the heaviest shelling in the city for two weeks.
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from neighbouring Turkey, quoted Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary-general, as saying during a visit to Ankara that the alliance had "no intention whatsoever" to intervene in Syria.
Rasmussen believes that the solution has to be a "regional one", our correspondent said, adding that a regional solution might include the involvement of al-Qaeda.
"Perhaps al-Qaeda has taken the [NATO] secretary-general at his word and decided to find a regional solution to the problem. No one should be surprised that al-Qaeda has shown up in Syria," she said, pointing out that the group's fighters used Syria to enter Iraq during the US occupation after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
General Assembly vote
Friday's violence in Syria came just hours after the General Assembly demanded an immediate halt to Assad's military crackdown.
In a strongly worded resolution adopted by a 137-12 vote on Thursday, member states demanded the government stop attacking civilian demonstrators and start pulling troops back to barracks.
Seventeen members abstained, with no vetoes allowed.
Ammar Waqqaf, of the pro-Assad Syrian Social Club, says regime change is not in the best interest of Syrian people
The resolution calls on Syria "to stop all violence or reprisals immediately, in accordance with the League of Arab States initiative".
It was referring to a peace plan put forward by the regional body calling on Assad to hand power over to his deputy and for the formation of a unity government ahead of elections.
Russia, China and Iran opposed the non-binding resolution, just days after China and Russia vetoed a similar resolution at the UN Security Council.
Egypt's deputy UN ambassador, Osama Abdelkhalek, said the General Assembly had sent an "unambiguous message" to Syria.
"It is high time to listen to the voice of the people," he said.
However, Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, criticised the Arab sponsors of the resolution, saying Western powers had exploited them to "internationalise" the crisis.
"The Arab Trojan horse has been unmasked today," he said.
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner, reporting from New York, where the General Assembly met, said that the vote was highly symbolic, and that those who voted in favour of the resolution hoped it would put additional pressure on Assad.
"But the resolution is not legally binding and won't have any direct impact on the ground in Syria, where the killing continues on all sides," she said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies