At least 16 people were killed in the Syrian flashpoint city of Homs by forces loyal to President Bashar Al Assad on Wednesday, according to activists. Meanwhile, thousands demonstrated against the regime in Aleppo’s Jabri square and several neighborhoods.
Those killed included two protesters shot dead by pro-Assad militiamen, known as shabbiha, in front of the Fatima mosque in the district of Al-Waar after nightly Ramadan prayers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Activists said two explosions and heavy firing were heard late at night in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, situated 165 km (100 miles) north of Damascus.
In the mainly quite city of Aleppo, the country’s second largest city and industrial center, thousands demonstrated in Saad Allah Al Jabri Square and neighborhoods of Sakhour, Bab Al Hadeed, Jamilya, Saif Dawla, and Mashareqa, according to activists.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has said it hopes to send a team to Syria in the near future to carry out a long-delayed UN assessment of the humanitarian situation in areas hit by a government crackdown.
“We hope that we are very nearly at the point where a mission will be able to go in and we’ll be able to make assessments,” UN humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos told reporters in New York.
Damascus has yet to allow the world body to send a team to Syria, where the government has been clamping down on pro-democracy protesters since March, despite months of urging by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Amos.
At the beginning of May, Syrian President Assad told Mr. Ban he would consider it but never granted permission. The government’s crackdown in Syria is estimated to have killed at least 2,000 people since the protests began.
If the mission is approved, Amos said it was unclear where exactly they would go, though “areas where there has been fighting, in particular, would be our priority.”
Mr. Ban spoke on the telephone with Assad on Wednesday, though details about the conversation were not immediately available, a U.N. spokesman said. Ban told Assad on Aug. 6 that the use of military force against civilians must stop.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict, said in a statement that her office had received “credible allegations of children being killed or wounded in security operations against civilians in Syria.”
“There are also allegations that children have been tortured by the security forces,” she said. “State parties have a duty to protect children in any police or military operations and I call on the Syrian authorities to fulfill their obligations.”
The UN Security Council ended months of deadlock on Aug. 3, when it condemned the violence in Syria and urged Damascus to allow aid workers into the country.
Western diplomats say they would like the council to take further action against Syria, but veto powers Russia and China, along with South Africa, Brazil and India, have been reluctant to ratchet up the pressure on Assad.
Amos and UN human rights chief Navi Pillay are expected to brief the 15-nation council at a closed-door session on Syria on Thursday.
A UN official told Reuters in Beirut that the world body has withdrawn non-essential staff from Syria.