BEIRUT – A renewed wave of violence swept across Syria on Friday as the government of President Bashar Assad sought to counter mass protests and armed insurgents in cities and towns brimming with rebellion against his rule, according to opposition accounts.
More than 120 people have been killed in the last two days, the opposition says, signaling one of the bloodiest stretches of an uprising that began 10 months ago and that now threatens the more than four-decade reign of the Assad family.
The chief of the Arab League’s monitoring team in Syria, Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Dabi, warned that violence had “escalated dramatically” and could undercut any chance for a negotiated peace in the divided nation.
Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn their monitors from Syria, leaving the Arab League’s much-discussed peace plan for Syria on life support. Gulf monarchies seeking Assad’s ouster are looking to partner with Western allies, including the United States, in crafting a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian leader, with the hope of hastening his departure.
But Assad’s ally, Russia, which holds veto power on the Security Council, indicated again Friday that it would block any resolution that could lead to sanctions or military intervention against the Syrian state.
Even as the diplomatic front shifted to New York, the situation on the ground in Syria remained extremely volatile.
Amateur video and news footage showed large-scale demonstrations from the suburbs of Damascus, the capital, to the central city of Homs, long a hotbed of the revolt, to the southern region of Dara, near the Jordanian border. Protests were also reported in the northwest, near the Turkish border. Armed rebels wielding AK-47 assault rifles accompanied many of the protesters, who chanted for the downfall of the Assad regime.
The opposition alleged that the government has unleashed a barrage of heavy weaponry on Homs in recent days, killing dozens.
Still, amateur video showed demonstrators taking to the streets of Homs, chanting “Bashar Assad is the terrorist!” – a rejection of the government’s contention that the armed opposition is composed of terrorists.
By most accounts, Assad’s army remains strong and has the ability to storm opposition strongholds in force, as troops were reported to have done in recent days in the cities of Homs and Hama. Assad also still has considerable support, especially among Christians and other minorities who fear the prospect of an intolerant Islamist leadership in Syria.