Syrian refugees attempt to cross the border into Turkey at Reyhanli, Antakya, yesterday
Syrian refugees attempt to cross the border into Turkey at Reyhanli, Antakya. Syria's deadly revolt entered a second year Thursday with the regime smashing rebel bastions and peace envoy Kofi Annan awaiting answers from Damascus before the United Nations re-enters the fray. © Bulent Kilic - AFP
Syrian refugees attempt to cross the border into Turkey at Reyhanli, Antakya, yesterday
Last updated: March 15, 2012

Syria revolt enters second year with regime on offensive

Huge rallies showed support for Syria's president on Thursday despite a new "massacre" report and a refugee exodus to Turkey, as a deadly anti-regime revolt entered a second year.

International peace envoy Kofi Annan, meanwhile, demanded answers from President Bashar al-Assad's regime before the UN Security Council re-enters the fray in a conflict that monitors now say has cost more than 9,100 lives.

State television showed tens of thousands of people waving Syrian flags and Assad's portrait in squares in Damascus, the northern city of Aleppo, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, Suweida to the south and Hasaka in the northeast.

The cities have been relatively unscathed by the deadly crackdown on dissent.

The authorities, which have blamed the bloodshed on foreign-backed "terrorist gangs," announced a "global march for Syria" to counter anti-regime demonstrations being organised this week by the opposition across the world.

Against a backdrop of a sea of flags, including the colours of Syria's Russian and Iranian allies as well as Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah, a bugler played in Damascus before a military band struck up the national anthem.

"We are not scared of death. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for you, O Syria," the demonstrators chanted, many of them singing and dancing, and shouting: "Long live the army!"

In a breakdown of 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.

In Aleppo and on the outskirts of Damascus, security forces broke up scattered anti-regime protests, according to the Local Coordination Committees, which organise demonstrations.

"Bashar, get out," women chanted at a rally in the Jubar district of eastern Damascus, in a video posted by activists on the Internet.

The Observatory, meanwhile, said 23 mutilated corpses were found near the protest city of Idlib in northwest Syria that was seized by regime forces this week.

The victims had been blindfolded and handcuffed before being shot and the bodies dumped outside Idlib, it said, in an apparent repeat of a "massacre" of dozens of women and children in the flashpoint city of Homs last weekend.

It also said at least 16 other people were killed in violence on Thursday: nine civilians and four rebel fighters in Idlib province, a soldier shot in the city of the same name and two army officers on the Homs-Qusayr road.

Human Rights Watch stepped in to demand an end to the "scorched earth methods" being deployed by Assad and insist that China and Russia stop blocking UN efforts to take tough action.

"City after city, town after town, Syria's security forces are using their scorched earth methods while the Security Council's hands remain tied by Russia and China," HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson.

Since October, Moscow and Beijing have blocked two draft Security Council resolutions to condemn Damascus on the grounds they were unbalanced and aimed at regime change.

After a mission to Damascus, UN-Arab League mediator Annan has urged Assad to speed up efforts to end the bloodletting in Syria.

The former UN chief had received a response to "concrete proposals" he submitted to the Syrian president last weekend but had more "questions and is seeking answers."

Annan, who is to brief the Security Council on his mission by video conference from Geneva on Friday, "is still in contact with the Syrian authorities -- the dialogue continues," said his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.

The UN said it would send experts on a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the past year of "brutal repression" by Assad's regime.

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

In neighbouring Turkey, the foreign ministry said about 1,000 Syrian refugees, including a defecting general, had crossed into the country in the past 24 hours.

"The number of Syrian refugees currently staying in Turkey boomed by 1,000 in a single day and climbed to 14,700 total," foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said.

Turkey's Red Crescent chief, Ahmet Lutfi Akar, warned that up to 500,000 Syrians may cross into the country seeking refuge from the bloodshed.

Also in Turkey, hundreds of activists in a "Freedom Convoy" who tried to enter Syria were stopped by Turkish police near the border. The aid they were carrying would instead be offered to Syrian refugees inside Turkey.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah urged all parties to the conflict in Syria, a close ally of the movement also backed by Iran, to lay down their weapons.

Bahrain joined a growing list of countries to shut its embassy in Syria.

In Brussels, a senior diplomat said EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton wants the bloc's 27 governments to pull all its ambassadors out of Syria going into talks among foreign ministers next week.

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