| 14.01,12. 03:25 AM |
9 Dead as Syrians Take to Streets in Support of Rebel Army
Thousands demonstrated in support of the rebel Free Syrian Army on Friday, as activists said security forces shot dead nine people in several regions and longtime Damascus ally Moscow kept up its opposition to calls for tougher action against the regime.
The Local Coordination Committees, the main activist group spurring protests on the ground, said regime troops shot dead two people in the northern province of Aleppo, one in the central province of Hama, one in the eastern oil hub of Deir al-Zour, two in the central opposition bastion Homs, one in the southern province of Daraa and another in the Damascus suburb of al-Damir.
And a human rights watchdog told Agence France Presse that security force fire killed another protester in Idlib province in the northwest.
Meanwhile, both France and Syria announced investigations into the death of French TV correspondent Gilles Jacquier, the first Western newsman to die in Syria since anti-regime protests erupted in March.
Security forces were out in strength as they have been each Friday for the main weekly demonstrations.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20,000 people had turned out in the Idlib town of Ariha calling for the overthrow of the regime, and another 15,000 in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
Explosions were heard in the flashpoint central city of Homs, the Britain-based watchdog said. The security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Deir al-Zour in the northeast, Daraa province, south of the capital, and in the Damascus suburbs, it added.
Five people were reported wounded in Daraa.
The rallies, following a day in which security forces killed 30 civilians and two army deserters in their crackdown, come after the largest civilian opposition group agreed to boost ties with the rebels.
Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group that initially opposed the use of force in the uprising, met on Thursday with rebel chief Colonel Riad al-Asaad.
The SNC said they "extensively discussed the situation on the ground and the organizational capacity of the FSA."
They agreed to "formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganization of FSA units and brigades, and the creation of a format to accommodate within FSA ranks additional officers and soldiers, especially senior military officials, who side with the revolution," it added.
Formed from deserters from the regular army who mutinied over the regime's deadly crackdown, the FSA says it has some 40,000 fighters under its command.
The numbers cannot be independently verified although the Syrian authorities have acknowledged mounting losses at the hands of the rebels in recent months.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on his way to Syria's western neighbor Lebanon on Friday, issued a call for the international community to stand together to address a crisis which the world body estimated last month had cost more than 5,000 lives.
In an interview with Lebanon's An Nahar daily, Ban said he had repeatedly appealed to Assad to stop the bloodshed and listen to his people but that he had received only empty promises.
He said the U.N. Security Council must speak with one voice in seeking an end to the crisis but Moscow renewed its opposition to Western calls for tougher action by the world body.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov rejected Western-proposed amendments to a draft Security Council resolution on Syria which Moscow circulated last month.
"Unfortunately, the West's approach radically differs from ours," Gatilov said.
"Judging by the contents of their proposed amendments, their goal is clearly aimed at removing Assad's regime in Damascus," he said.
Gatilov said that Russia had full confidence in much-criticized Arab League observer mission in Syria since December 26 to oversee a deal to end the bloodshed.
"We feel their presence is a stabilizing factor in Syria that promotes the chances of a peaceful settlement," he said.
The Syrian opposition has called for the Arab League to pull out the observers or at least seek U.N. tactical support, saying they have been ineffective in ending the violence and have been repeatedly duped by the authorities.
But the League's Syria operations chief Adnan Khodeir insisted that the observers would see the mission through until its initial one-month term finishes on January 19.
"Within the next two days the additional teams who have arrived in Syria recently will fan out and this will bring the total number of teams deployed there to 16," Khodeir said.
The Arab League deal signed with Damascus called for an end to violence against civilians, the withdrawal of the military from cities, the release of detainees and free access for foreign media.
But following the death of Jacquier on Wednesday, the head of French public television news, Thierry Thuillier, told AFP there were "troubling elements" surrounding the rocket attack that killed him.
"For instance, why, while this journalists' convoy was under military escort, why did the soldiers all of a sudden disappear just as the first shells were fired?" he said.
Both Damascus and Paris have ordered separate investigations.