Western and other countries are turning a blind eye to weapons purchases by Syrian exiles who are already smuggling light arms, communications equipment and night vision goggles to rebels inside Syria, a Syrian opposition source said on Friday as Russia called for an urgent ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs.
As many as 94 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian security forces, mostly in Hama, on Friday, activists at the Syrian Revolution Commission told Al Arabiya.
Syrian opposition supporters were also trying to find ways to bring anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the Free Syrian Army, which is composed mainly of Syrian soldiers who have defected and volunteer civilians, the source said.
Contacts were also ongoing to find ways to get retired Syrian officers into the country to act as advisers in an effort to coordinate rebels fighting in a near year-long uprising against Bashar al-Asad’s rule.
“We are bringing in defensive and offensive weapons... It is coming from everywhere, including Western countries and it is not difficult to get anything through the borders,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“There is not a decision by any country to arm the rebels but countries are allowing Syrians to buy weapons and send them into the country.”
Shelling Homs for 21st day
Syrian forces shelled a rebel-held area of the city of Homs for the 21st straight day, while tens of thousands protested across the country, monitors said, according to AFP.
The bombing targeted the district of Baba Amro, where hundreds have reportedly been killed since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad began an artillery attack on Feb. 4, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Some 100 people were killed Thursday across the country and more than 7,600 people have been killed since protests erupted against Assad’s regime in March 2011, according to activists.
“Baba Amro is being brought down on the heads of its inhabitants,” wrote one activist who posted online footage of the bombing. “O, Arabs and Muslims, why don’t you react,” he asked.
U.S. war reporter Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed Wednesday in shelling that hit a makeshift media center in Baba Amro.
Army defectors also clashed with regime forces in the city of Rastan, in the province of Homs, and destroyed two personnel carriers as troops attempted to storm the rebel-held city, the Observatory said.
Activists said Syrian security forces lined up and shot dead at least 18 people in a village in central Syria on Friday, including seven members of the same family.
They said the victims were from farming families: men, women and children including a ten-month-old baby and a 7-year-old, from Halfiya in Hama province. Security forces lined them up and shot them, activists said.
“Twelve of the people killed were shot in the head,” an activist in Hama told Reuters.
The motive for the killings was not immediately clear.
Protests in support of Baba Amro
Meanwhile, tens of thousands flooded streets across the country defying tight security and gunfire in some places, after activists called for demonstrations nationwide in support of Baba Amro.
“We will rise up for you Baba Amro,” said a call for protests posted on the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page.
“Tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated today in several areas of Syria,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory, told AFP.
In the northern city of Aleppo, security forces opened fire to disperse a protest in the Sukari neighborhood, and at another demonstration in the city of Tal Refat, in the province of Aleppo, the Observatory said.
Security forces also deployed at the university of Aleppo, scene to protests over the past days.
In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, a civilian was seriously wounded as security forces opened fire at a demonstration at the Hweija roundabout, the Observatory said.
In the southern province of Deraa, security forces opened fire at a demonstration in the town of Adwan while military forces stormed the town of al-Hara, the Observatory said. There were protests elsewhere in the province.
The Local Coordination Committees said that demonstrators emerged from mosques following the weekly Muslim prayers in the northern Damascus suburb of Douma chanting slogans of support for Baba Amr and calling for the overthrow of the regime.
Protests were also staged in the Mediterranean cities of Latakia, Jableh, and Banias, as well as in Hasakeh and Qamishli, in the northeast, the LCC reported.
Western and Arab powers meeting in Tunis on Friday are to push Syria to allow in desperately needed humanitarian aid.
More than 60 nations are gathering for the “Friends of Syria” conference, which will also seek to further isolate Assad's regime and support the country's opposition.
Russia calls for ceasefire in Homs
Russia, meanwhile, called for an urgent ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs and urged both the government and “armed groups” to cooperate with humanitarian relief efforts by a U.N. envoy and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” about violence in Homs and other Syrian cities and said it must end, but maintained Moscow’s position that both sides were responsible for the bloodshed, not only Assad’s government, according to Reuters.
Russia also said humanitarian relief must not lead to military interference, which it opposes, and reiterated criticism of a “Friends of Syria” meeting of Western and Arab states in Tunisia that Russia says is not sufficiently inclusive.
The Russian Foreign Ministry statement roughly echoed a draft declaration at the Tunis meeting, which urged Syria to cease all violence immediately, but it repeated Russia’s calls on the West and Arabs to pressure Assad's opponents to stop fighting.
“We call on the Syrian government and armed groups, and also those who can exert influence upon them, to immediately take all the necessary steps to avoid the further worsening of the humanitarian situation and to improve it,” it said.
The Foreign Ministry urged both sides to cooperate with the ICRC mission and with U.N. humanitarian envoy Valerie Amos.
Amos was expected to attend the meeting in Tunis, along with representatives from the ICRC, which is trying to arrange daily ceasefires between the Syrian authorities and opposition to allow in humanitarian aid and evacuate wounded.
The Red Cross said Syria had not replied to its request for a truce.
Russia also praised plans to send former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to Syria as a joint U.N.-Arab League envoy.
The Foreign Ministry said Russia hoped Annan could help “resolve the serious political and humanitarian issues on the basis of work with all sides” and foster a broad political dialogue between the government and opponents.
Along with China, Russia vetoed a Western-Arab drafted U.N. Security Council resolution early this month that supported an Arab League plan for Assad to step aside and placed most of the blame for a year of violence on the government.
Russia has vocally opposed any foreign military intervention on Syria, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Friday that Moscow hopes humanitarian relief will not lead to such intervention, state-run Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Moscow has said creating humanitarian aid corridors could lead to further violence and to military intervention.