Syrian forces have launched an all-out assault on opposition strongholds in Damascus, after rebels seized crossings on the Iraq and Turkey borders amid a heavy death toll.
Rebel fighters also clashed with troops in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo on Friday in what the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said was the fiercest fighting so far in Syria's second city.
AFO reported that the Syrian army was now in control of the Damascus neighbourhoods of Midan, Tadamon, Qaboon and Barzeh, while fierce clashes were reported in other districts including Jubar, Mazzeh and Kfar Sousa.
Intense fighting was also reported in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo and troops are said to have opened fire on a large demonstration in the city, Syria's commercial centre. The Observatory said it was the fiercest fighting so far in Syria's second city, adding that 177 people were killed nationwide, including 119 civilians, at least seven of them children.
The deaths came after 302 people were killed on Thursday, the deadliest day of the uprising so far.
Amnesty International said the rebels too could be held criminally responsible for the deaths of civilians as they took the fight to residential areas of the large cities.
The Security Council in the meantime, has renewed the mandate of United Nations observers tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria and the full implementation of the international peace plan put forward to end the ongoing crisis.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the Council extended the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for a final period of 30 days, “taking into consideration Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendations to reconfigure the Mission, and taking into consideration the operational implications of the increasingly dangerous security situation in Syria.”
The Council established UNSMIS in April with an initial 90-day mandate, which expired today.
The Mission had recently suspended its regular patrols due to the escalating violence in the country, where over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago.
UNSMIS was tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of the six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan.
That plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
Speaking to reporters in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Mr. Ban said that he and the Joint Special Envoy would press ahead to try and end the violence and abuses in Syria.
“We cannot abandon our collective responsibility to enable a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-led transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.
The UN chief called again on all the parties, starting with the Syrian Government and opposition forces, to stop the killing, and especially the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.
With fighting now taking place in many parts of Syria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, strongly urged all sides to make a huge effort to ensure civilians are not killed or injured.
“Conflict in urban areas is obviously especially dangerous to civilians. And far too many innocent men, women and children have already been killed and injured already, as well as a million displaced,” her spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has also expressed his growing concern for the dramatic numbers of people who are fleeing their homes in Syria.
“With the spread of deadly violence, I am gravely concerned for the thousands of Syrian civilians and refugees who have been forced to flee their homes,” he stated.
Thousands of Syrians crossed into Lebanon in the past two days, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, told a news conference in Geneva. There have been reports claiming that between 8,500 and 30,000 people crossed the border between Thursday and Friday..
In consultation with government authorities, UNHCR and partners are now in the field verifying numbers and assessing the profile and needs of newly arrived Syrians, with a particular focus on vulnerable people who may need immediate assistance.
According to the agency’s registration statistics on 18 July, 120,000 Syrian refugees sought protection in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. According to Government estimates, the numbers are much higher, noted Ms. Fleming.
Meanwhile, reports indicated that medics and rebel fighters mentioned heavy shelling by the army of Albu Kamal town, while residents on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria said that relatives were desperately trying to cross but that they were being turned back by Iraqi troops.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on the United Nations on Friday to intervene to provide safe passage for Iraqis escaping the escalating violence in Syria.
The Iraqi government also warned it would not be able to assist Syrians looking to escape the bloodshed.