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Thousands of Syrians are rallying to demand Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, as the embattled president’s forces unleashed
their heaviest pounding yet of Homs in a brutal bid to crush dissent, monitors said.
The protesters on Friday emerged from mosques after the main weekly Muslim prayers, in line with 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 Assad to step aside, and ahead of a visit by a Chinese envoy pushing for peace.
In the capital, one civilian died and 12 were wounded, some critically, when they were fired on at a demonstration in Mazze neighbourhood, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At least 10,000 people demonstrated in the southern town of Dael, in the province of Daraa, cradle of the revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, said the Britain-based monitor.
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.
Syria a ‘Humanitarian crises’
In Homs, rockets crashed into strongholds of resistance at the rate of four a minute, according to one opposition activist who added the 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,” said Hadi Abdullah of the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution.
A tank fired into a residential part of Homs before bursts of machinegun fire clattered across the neighbourhood, according to a video activists uploaded to YouTube.f
“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,” said activist Omar Shakir.
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,” said Ali al-Hazzuri.
“There are casualties who are close to dying.” Nine bodies of unidentified people were found on Friday morning in Homs,
said the Observatory, which also reported the heaviest shelling in the city for two weeks.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from neighbouring Turkey, reported that NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, on a visit to Ankara said the intenrational body has “no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria.”
The reasons, he gave, reported our correspondent, was that Fogh Rasmussen believed that the solution had to be a “regional one” – and that regional solution, reports McNaught, might include the involvement of al-Qaeda.
“Perhaps al-Qaeda have taken the secretary general at his own word and decided to find a regional solution to the problem. No one should be surprised that al-Qaeda has shown up in Syria,” said McNaught, pointing out that the group used Syria to enter Iraq during the American occupation of the latter.
UN call to end violence
The violence came after the UN General Assembly demanded on Thursday an immediate halt to Syria’s brutal crackdown on dissent, which human rights groups say has cost more than 6,000 lives in the past 11 months.
In a strongly worded resolution adopted by a 137-12 vote, member states demanded Assad’s government stop attackingcivilian demonstrators and start pulling troops back to barracks. Seventeen members abstained – no vetos were allowed.
The resolution calls on Damascus “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 pan-Arab bloc 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 put forward by Arab states with Western support just days after Beijing and Moscow 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 Damascus: “It is high time to listen to the voice of the people.”
But Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari lashed out at other Arab nations, saying Western powers had exploited the Arab League to “internationalise” the crisis.
“The Arab Trojan horse has been unmasked today,” he said.
On the eve of his trip to Damascus, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said Beijing opposed armed intervention and forced “regime change” in Syria.
Meanwhile, killing continues
Al Jazeera’s Cath Turner, reporting from New York, where the UN 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 President 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,” said Turner.
Meanwhile, a human rights lawyer said blogger Razan Ghazzawi, a figurehead of the uprising, had been arrested again, along with leading rights activist Mazen Darwish, his wife and 11 others.
On Thursday, Syria’s opposition rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule, and urged voters to boycott a February 26 referendum on the charter.