Aleppo Rally 311 R.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Tens of thousands of Syrians rallied in support of President Bashar Assad in the
northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday while to the south his troops carried out a
sustained offensive to crush the seven-month uprising against his
The state-organized gathering in Syria's commercial hub came a week
after a similar demonstration in Damascus, showing authorities can still rally
mass support in the country's two main cities despite waves of unrest across the
"We love you" sang demonstrators, holding pictures of Assad and
waving Syrian, Russian and Chinese flags - a reference to Moscow and Beijing's
veto of a United Nations draft resolution which could have led to UN sanctions
Huge flags were draped from seven-story buildings
around the square where demonstrators gathered to hear nationalist songs and
speeches supporting Assad. Residents said Aleppo schools were closed on
Wednesday to boost attendance at the rally.
In the central city of Homs,
where residents say gunmen and army deserters have battled government forces
sweeping through several neighborhoods, activists said six people were shot dead
by pro-Assad "shabbiha" gunmen in the Naziheen district.
Nations says Assad's crackdown has killed 3,000 people, including 187
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Syrian
conflict is increasingly taking on the dimensions of a civil war.
Ford, Washington's ambassador to Syria, said the Obama administration is
striving to encourage Syria's opposition to remain peaceful line amid the
"The excessive violence that the government has
used against the street protest movement is undermining moderates" in the
opposition, Ford said in a video address from Damascus to the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy.
"More in the street are now starting to
say, 'Why don't we take up arms?'" On Wednesday Syria's opposition National
Council, which has pledged to seek international protection to stop civilian
deaths and has called for the uprising to remain peaceful, was recognized by
Libya as the country's legitimate authority.
"We ask other countries ...
to take the same path as Libya," Syrian opposition activist Wael Razak told a
news conference in Tripoli. Noting that some Gulf Arab states had withdrawn
ambassadors from Syria, he called on other countries "to end relations with the
dictatorship in Syria." Assad has sent troops and tanks into cities and towns to
put down the unrest. But protests have persisted, although in reduced numbers,
with several thousand soldiers from the mainly Sunni Muslim rank-and-file army
now challenging his rule.
Several officers have recently announced their
defection, although most deserters have been Sunni conscripts who usually man
roadblocks and form the outer layer of military and secret police rings around
restless cities and towns.
The officer corps of Syria's army is composed
mainly of members of Assad's minority Alawite community.
desertions included 20 soldiers who left their posts near the town of Hirak, 80
km (50 miles) south of Damascus, and clashed with troops after the killing of
three protesters demonstrating against the arrest of a popular cleric, activists
One Hirak resident said the clashes, which broke out late on
Tuesday, continued on Wednesday and troops sealed off the city cemetery to
prevent mourners burying the dead protesters.
"Attrition is increasing
within army ranks and beginning to form a problem for Assad. The geographical
area of the protests is large and the regime is being forced to use Sunni
soldiers to back up core forces," a senior European diplomat