|Tens of thousands of Syrians participated in a state-organised rally in support of Assad in Aleppo [Reuters]|
At least 17 people have been shot dead in Syria, activists say, as security forces continued their brutal crackdown on a popular protest against President Bashar al-Assad.
The alleged deaths came as a pro-government rally drew massive support in the northern city of Aleppo.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday that 17 civilians were killed in Syria, including three teenage girls and a woman, while at least seven soldiers died in clashes with suspected army defectors.
The watchdog group said eight people were killed in Homs, central Syria, including four shot dead by Shabiha, an armed civilian group that supports Assad’s government.
Deaths reported in violence across Syria
The other eight civilians were killed in and around the town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, where clashes raged between troops and suspected army deserters.
One woman was hit by a stray bullet while the teenage girls were killed when their home was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as troops battled the suspected defectors near Qusayr.
Syrian forces raked homes with heavy machine-guns as they raided neighbourhoods searching for suspects wanted by the authorities, the Observatory said, adding that around 200 people were arrested in the raids.
One man was killed in a raid by security forces in the northwestern province of Idlib, it added.
The Observatory also reported that at least seven Syrian soldiers were killed and others wounded in clashes with suspected army defectors in the village of Jussiyeh near Qusayr.
In a show of solidarity with the Syrian people’s popular uprising, Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), officially recognised the Syrian opposition council on Wednesday as the legitimate authority in Syria.
“The NTC expresses its full recognition of the Syrian National Council as the legitimate ruler of Syria,” said the NTC in a statement.
More than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in Assad’s fierce crackdown on dissent, according to the United Nations.
Tens of thousands of Syrians rallied in Aleppo on Wednesday in support of Assad.
The state-organised gathering in Syria’s commercial hub came a week after a similar demonstration in Damascus, showing authorities can still rally mass support in the country’s two main cities despite waves of unrest across the nation.
“We love you” sang demonstrators, holding pictures of Assad and waving Syrian, Russian and Chinese flags – a reference to Moscow and Beijing’s veto of a UN draft resolution which could have led to sanctions against Damascus.
Huge flags were draped from seven-storey buildings around the square where demonstrators gathered to hear nationalist songs and speeches of support for Assad, who has defied US and European calls to step down.
Residents said Aleppo schools were closed on Wednesday to boost attendance at the rally.
Arab League held ‘hostage’
An official Syrian daily newspaper lashed out at the Arab League on Wednesday, accusing it of serving US and Israeli interests after the organisation urged Damascus to open up to dialogue.
“It is no longer surprising to see the Arab League, which is supposed to be concerned with joint Arab action, turn into an instrument of injustice aimed at destabilising Syria,” said the daily Ath-Thawra.
The daily said the 22-member Arab League was “hostage to powers following the agenda of aggressors like the United States, Israel and their European allies”.
“Following years of inaction, the Arab League has now become a tool of destabilisation, and is acting against Arab interests,” said the newspaper.
At an urgent session in Cairo on October 16, the Arab League called for “national dialogue” between Syria’s government and the opposition in the Egyptian capital by the end of the month to help end the violence and avoid “foreign intervention” in Syria.
But the move was denounced as a “conspiracy” by Youssef Ahmad, Syria’s representative to the Arab League.