United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon told Syria’s prime minister in Tehran on Friday that fighting must stop in Syria “with the primary responsibility resting on the government to halt its use of heavy weapons,” while thousands of defiant demonstrators took to the streets across Syria for protests.
In the meeting with Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Ban said he set out “my demands for all sides to cease all forms of violence,” with Damascus bearing the greatest responsibility.
“What is important at this time is that all the parties must stop the violence. All those actors who may be providing arms to both sides... must stop,” Ban said at a news conference broadcast live on Iranian television.
The U.N. secretary general held his meeting with Halaqi on the sidelines of a two-day Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran that was to end on Friday.
Ban said he had asked Iran to support his call on Syria, “and I have a strong assurance from Iran that it will do so.”
He also said he had a series of meetings with joint UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has taken over from Kofi Annan international efforts to broker peace in Syria.
The bloody conflict in Syria has claimed more than 26,000 lives since it began in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Iran, the principal ally of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has accused the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming Syria’s rebels.
The Syrian opposition and U.S. officials in turn allege that Iran is giving military help to Assad.
Meanwhile, thousands of defiant demonstrators took to the streets across Syria on Friday for protests after the weekly Muslim prayers, according to amateur video posted on YouTube by activists.
“We will not surrender, despite your tanks and guns!” protesters chanted in Assali, a Damascus district where anti-regime sentiment is strong, pledging their commitment to the 17-month revolt in the face of the worsening violence.
Security forces blocked roads leading into Damascus on Friday, an AFP correspondent said, adding that roadblocks were also set up across the capital.
Meanwhile reports that 14 helicopters have been destroyed at Abu Zohour airbase in Idlib, were announced by the city's news network reports, according to Al Arabiya. This report is yet to be independently confirmed.
Elsewhere, protests were staged despite fierce fighting between rebels and the army, and ongoing sieges of several rebel-held towns and villages.
“Death is better than humiliation!” chanted protesters including children in Kafr Zeita in the central province of Hama, according to amateur video.
The southern province of Daraa, cradle of the uprising against Assad, proved just as defiant. “We do not kneel except before God,” protesters chanted. “Martyrs, you are heroes!” cried others.
“Treacherous soldier, shame on you!” shouted demonstrators in Daraa of the army that is accused of killing dozens of civilians daily.
“How beautiful you are, O freedom!” chanted children at a protest in the northern province of Aleppo.
The demonstrations were held in response to calls by Syrian activists rallying under the call “Daraya, a flame that will never die,” in reference to a town near Damascus where the opposition says more than 330 people were killed in an army offensive last week.
In Daraya itself, the mood was somber days on from what the opposition described as a “massacre,” an activist told AFP via Skype.
“There is almost no one on the streets,” said the activist identifying himself as Abu Kinan. “Of course there are no protests here today. Our wounds are still all too fresh.”
Violence across Syria on Thursday killed 119 people, including 79 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.