A team from the Arab League arrived in Syria yesterday amid an international outcry over a "bloodbath" that saw more than 200 people killed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime in just two days.
Activists have accused government forces of a major escalation in violence ahead of arrival of foreign observers. The advance delegation is tasked with arranging for the arrival of 20 foreign monitors at the weekend and eventually increasing the numbers to 500.
"They are trying to buy time, one hour after another, hoping to gain the upper hand on the ground," said an activist from the village of Kfar Owaid, the scene of one of the most brutal acts in the uprising so far with more than 100 people slaughtered in the village on Tuesday. Eyewitnesses said troops surrounded residents and activists in a valley and unleashed a barrage of rockets, tank shells, bombs and gunfire in an assault that one witness described as an "organised massacre".
At least another 19 people were killed yesterday as government troops in the city of Homs, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Up to 70 deserting soldiers were reportedly gunned down on Monday as they tried to flee their positions. Since the protests erupted in March, more than 5,000 people have been killed, according to the UN.
Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council yesterday called on the UN to "urgently intervene". Turkey, once a close ally of Damascus, warned the violence was in stark contrast to the spirit of the Arab League deal Syria signed up to and is raising doubts about the regime's "true intentions".
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said yesterday: "We strongly condemn the Syrian leadership's policies of oppression against its own people, which are turning the country into a bloodbath." The US toughened its rhetoric after the attack on Kfar Owaid, accusing Syria of trying to "mow down" its own people. In the Syrian city of Aleppo, activists tweeted yesterday videos and photographs of thousands of government troops storming the campus firing tear gas on the fourth day of a student sit-down protest.
Elsewhere, independent news channels posted videos of Syrian soldiers who they said had defected to the anti-government side, suggesting Assad is fast losing his grip on his security forces who are transferring their weapons and expertise to the opposition.