Iranian president makes surprise appeal to Syria to end violence and open dialogue with opposition.
Syrians have taken to the streets for another Friday of protests, calling for international help to stop the security crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Large protests called “Friday for International Protection” were reported in cities including Qamishli in the northeast, Homs and Hama in the centre of the country, and Deir al-Zor in the east.
Activists and rights group say at least 2,200 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.
Al Jazeera’s Omar al Saleh, reporting from Ramtha on the Jordan-Syria border, said the calls vary from the execution of Assad to international protection.
“These calls are escalating every day, now they are demanding international protection from their own government,” he said.
Activists said up to five people were killed by security forces on Friday, including a teenage boy.
“A 15-year-old boy was martyred when soldiers manning a checkpoint opened fire in the village of al-Rama, in Jabal al-Zawiyah,” in the northwest, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a pro-democracy group, said the boy was killed after he was injured with his brother by “random shooting” in the village.
Also on Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that 18 injured protestors were forced out of hospital in Homs by Syrian security forces this week.
“They [HRW] are saying that Syrian security forces have raided a hospital,” said Al Jazeera’s Al Saleh.
“They are saying security forces literally pulled injured protesters that had been taken to the hospital out of their beds. They prevented doctors from treating them and even started beating them in the hallway.”
Lobbying Russia for help
Some opposition activists have called on the UN to send international observers to Syria to stop the ongoing violence.
“The Syrian people calls on the United Nations to adopt a resolution to set up a permanent observer mission in Syria,” activists said on the Facebook page Syrian Revolution 2011.
In the southern town of Jiza, protesters carried a banner reading “People want international protection”.
Against this backdrop of continued unrest, a Syrian opposition delegation has visited Russia and met Mikhail Margelov, the upper house of parliament’s foreign affairs chief.
Russia has refused to back Western sanctions against Syria, and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, told the TV channel Euronews on the eve of the visit that some members of the opposition “could even be described as terrorists”.
Medvedev reiterated Russia’s belief in talks to resolve the crisis, saying: “We must not idealise this situation, we must approach it from a balance of strongest interest. We are ready to support different approaches, but they must not be based on one-sided condemnations of the actions their own government and President Assad.
“They must send a firm signal to all conflicting sides that they need to sit down at the negotiations table, they need to agree and stop the bloodshed.”
Ammar Qurabi, the head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria who led the delegation, did not address the comments directly. But he said after his talks with Margelov that he expected Moscow to play a more “positive” role.
Qurabi said his primary purpose in Moscow was “to tell the Russian media about what is happening in Syria so they could help us and put pressure on the Russian leadership”.
The visit comes a day after the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an umbrella bloc of activists, appealed to the international community to send in human rights monitors to help deter military attacks on civilians in the increasingly bloody crackdown.
“Calling for outside intervention is a sensitive issue that could be used by the regime to label its opponents as traitors. We are calling for international observers as a first step,” Ahmad al-Khatib, a spokesman for the bloc, told the Reuters news agency.
The Syrian leadership has repeatedly said it is fighting a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria and the authorities blame “armed terrorist groups” for the killings, including 500 members of the army and police.
But that argument has not gone down well with the West, nor with Turkey, which once strongly backed Assad.
“Mr Assad, how can you say you are killing terrorists when you were actually shelling Latakia from the sea and hitting civilian targets?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, told Al Jazeera in an interview broadcast on Thursday.
Iran, considered one of Damascus’ closest allies, has also put pressure on Assad’s government to end the crackdown.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also proposed a regional meeting in Tehran on the crisis in Syria, official news agency IRNA reported on Friday.
In the latest development, Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League chief, has flown to Syria on Saturday to convey concerns over the government’s crackdown on dissent, an Arab League official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
Elaraby had originally been expected to travel to Damascus on Wednesday but Arab diplomats said the visit was delayed at Syria’s request.
Meanwhile, the Latin American leftist ALBA bloc of nations has called NATO’s actions in Libya a “dangerous precedent” and warned against a similar campaign in Syria.
After meeting in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, ALBA foreign ministers issued a statement on Friday saying the bloc “expresses its most urgent alarm over the threat that this same process could be repeated against Syria, taking advantage of the country’s political problems.”
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a prominent voice in the bloc, has pointed to the months-long NATO campaign in Libya as an example of “imperialist” aggression.