Rallies across Syria in support of regime


MARKING THE one-year anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolt, tens of thousands gathered yesterday in central squares in Damascus and five other Syrian cities for pro-regime rallies.

Cheerful crowds waved Syrian, Russian and Hizbullah flags and held up portraits of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who says the unrest is a “conspiracy” against the country.

Near the northern city of Idlib, now under regime control, opposition activists said 23 bodies of torture victims detained by security forces were found and five others were killed in raids.

The Turkish foreign ministry has confirmed seven defecting Syrian brigadiers and more than 14,000 civilians have taken refuge in Turkey. There are reports that 1,000 civilians from Idlib have fled into Turkey in the past two days.

The pro-regime rallies took place against a background of disarray in opposition ranks. Rebels have been forced to withdraw from strongholds in Homs and Idlib, and three prominent members of the executive of the external opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) have resigned.

The resignation of dissident and former judge Haitham al-Maleh, liberal campaigner Kamal Labwani and human-rights lawyer Catherine al-Talli has dealt a blow to the SNC’s credibility.

Another 80 members of the 270-strong coalition could follow suit in protest at the SNC’s lack of effective leadership, domination by the Muslim Brotherhood and failure to arm the rebels.

While the SNC has called for arms, most countries opposing the regime reject military intervention. Hawkish French foreign minister Alain Juppé has warned that arming the rebels risks civil war.

“The Syrian people are deeply divided, and if we give arms to a certain faction . . . we would make a civil war among Christians, Alawites, Sunnis and Shias.”

Meanwhile, 200 human-rights and aid groups have pressed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution calling on the government to end its military campaign, the international community to support the peace mission of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, and all actors to grant unhindered access for humanitarian aid.