Syria protesters urge military intervention

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DAMASCUS: Anti-regime protesters called on Friday for foreign military intervention in Syria, as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan prepared to brief a divided UN Security Council on his peace efforts.

Ahead of UN participation in a Syrian-led humanitarian mission to protest cities at the weekend, Annan was to give a videoconference briefing to the Security Council from Geneva at 1400 GMT on his talks with Assad in Damascus.

Gulf Arab states, meanwhile, said they were following Riyadh’s lead in closing their Damascus embassies in protest at the violence, which monitors said Thursday on the first anniversary of its start has cost more than 9,100 lives.

Activists called on their Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011, for nationwide protests after weekly Muslim prayers to demand “immediate military intervention by the Arabs and Muslims, followed by the rest of the world.”

“The people want military intervention, the Free Syrian Army to be armed, and the fall of the regime,” several thousand demonstrators chanted in Aleppo in northern Syria, an activist at the scene told AFP in Beirut by telephone.

Other protests took place in the flashpoint provinces of Homs in central Syria and Daraa, in the south.

Huge rallies in support of President Bashar Al-Assad were held in Damascus and other major cities on Thursday to mark the anniversary. But numbers have fallen at anti-regime demonstrations as security forces seize protest centers.

With the opposition divided, Western countries have been opposed to military intervention although Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Assad’s fiercest critics in the Arab world, have come out in favor of arming the rebels.

Annan’s briefing came amid mounting pessimism among diplomats of Western governments that have spearheaded demands for tough action about his mission’s prospects for success.

The former UN chief has received a response to the “concrete proposals” he submitted to the Syrian leader last weekend but has more “questions and is seeking answers,” his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was using its contacts with the Syrian regime to fully cooperate with Annan but that other world powers should use their influence with the armed opposition.

“Other Security Council members should also do their job and demand the opposition not provoke an escalation of the situation,” he said.

Annan has said his talks were centered on the need for an immediate halt to the bloodshed, access for humanitarian organizations, and for political dialogue, which the opposition has so far rejected.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for unity Monday as a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers exposed the stark divide between Arab and Western governments and Damascus allies Beijing and Moscow on how to respond to the crisis.

China and Russia have twice used their veto powers to block draft resolutions condemning the Syrian authorities, charging that they were unbalanced and aimed at regime change.

Moscow has also hit out at a new US draft, saying that the onus it places on the regime to halt the violence first is unreasonable in a conflict that is now as much armed insurgency as peaceful protest movement.

In a breakdown of the 9,113 deaths in the past 12 months, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the toll comprised 6,645 civilians, 1,997 members of the security forces and 471 rebels.

On the ground, activists said Free Syrian Army rebels clashed with regular troops between Artuz and Muadhamiya in the Damascus region overnight, without giving any immediate report of casualties.

But Syrian Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said seven people were killed in overnight fighting in Dmeir and Qatana, also in the Damascus region.

The Observatory said at least 34 other people were killed in violence on Thursday, mostly in Idlib province bordering Turkey, where authorities said they were making contingency plans for a major refugee exodus.

The United Nations estimates more than 30,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring states and another 200,000 have been displaced within the country by the violence.

Turkey on Friday advised its own citizens to leave Syria.

“Developments in Syria pose serious security risks for our nationals,” the foreign ministry said. “Therefore it is strongly recommended that Turkish nationals currently in Syria leave and return home.”

The United Nations and Organization of Islamic Cooperation are to send experts on a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission to the protest cities of Homs, Daraa and Hama where thousands have reportedly been killed.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos stressed “it is increasingly vital that humanitarian organizations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies. There is no time to waste.”

Early on Friday, the Gulf Cooperation Council announced that all six of its member states were closing their Damascus embassies after having last month withdrawn their ambassadors.

European Union foreign ministers are to mull similar action next week, but EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Friday that she will maintain the bloc’s diplomatic presence in Damascus.



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