Syria fighting rages as protesters march nationwide against Arab inaction

Syrian anti-regime protesters wave pre-Baath Syrian flags during a demonstration in Dael in the southern Syrian province of Deraa. (AFP)

Syrian artillery hit parts of Homs city as anti-regime protesters rallied across Syria on Friday to denounce Arab states’ inaction in the face of a bloody crackdown on dissent after an Arab summit only urged dialogue to resolve the crisis.

As many as 55 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, Al Arabiya reported, citing Syrian activists.

“The desertion of the Arabs and the silence of the Muslims are the hardest things facing Syrians,” read a sign held up at a protest by hundreds of people in Kafaroma, in Idlib province in the northwest.

Protesters took to the streets despite a fierce assault on the Idlib town of Maaret al-Numan by security forces bidding to crush the year-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, monitors said.

“We will resist to the last drop of blood” and “Syria is bleeding,” said other placards held up by protesters at Irbin, near Damascus, as seen in an activist video posted online, according to AFP.

Internet-based activist group The Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the main motors of the uprising, called for people to take to the streets after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday to protest against the Arab world’s inaction.

“The Muslims and the Arabs have abandoned us ... but God is with us ... and our determination will carry us to victory,” the group said on its Facebook page.

An Arab summit in Baghdad on Thursday, largely ignored by Sunni Arab states, approved a resolution calling for an end to the Syrian regime’s crackdown on dissent, for the opposition to unite and for parties to the conflict to launch a “serious national dialogue.”

In Damascus, dozens of people rallied in the neighborhood of Kfar Sousa, braving the strong presence of security forces who shot at one group of demonstrators.

Protests were also held in the Damascus suburbs of al-Hajar al-Aswad and Duma, where worshippers emerged from around a dozen mosques, reported activist Mohammed Said, who added that regime forces opened fire to disperse them.

Hundreds of people marched through the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, while protesters in the second-largest city of Aleppo chanted: “O God, we have only you to help us.”

Activists in Syria have for more than a year staged anti-regime protests each Friday after the main Muslim prayers. They have been violently put down by Assad’s forces.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have died in the revolt, which many fear has brought Syria to the verge of civil war.

On Thursday, activists blocked a street and burned tires in the al-Aassali neighborhood of Damascus to protest the “failure of the Arab League,” according to a video posted on the Internet.

Syrian artillery, meanwhile, hit parts of Homs city and scores of people were killed in clashes around the country on Friday, opposition activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported many wounded in fighting between troops and rebels in Idlib province.

Clashes also erupted overnight in the towns of Harasta and Arbin after rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades at a building, killing a soldier, according to Reuters.

In Homs, Syria’s third city, residents said shells and mortar rounds struck anti-Assad areas as troops conducted raids.

Tension rose in the Barzeh quarter of Damascus as security forces deployed and mobile phone connections went dead.

Assad’s strongest regional ally Iran said 12 Iranian citizens abducted “by Syrian opposition forces” had been released, including five engineers working for Syria’s power plant in Homs who were kidnapped in late December.

Iran’s state IRNA news agency said Syrian “armed gangs” had kidnapped dozens of pilgrims from Iran. In January, Syrian rebels released video footage of seven men they said were Iranian soldiers captured in Syria. The video’s authenticity could not be verified.

Iran is helping Syria beat Western sanctions by providing a tanker to ship Syrian oil to China, netting a potential $80 million. Iran, itself a target of Western sanctions, has promised to do all it can to support Assad, recently praising his handling of the year-long uprising.

The United Nations says Assad’s forces have killed at least 9,000 people. The government says around 3,000 military and police members have been killed.

Along with Syria’s big-power ally Russia, China has also shielded Assad from foreign intervention, vetoing two Western-backed resolutions at the United Nations over the bloodshed.

China is not bound by Western sanctions against Syria.

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