Syria towns under fire as thousands protest prior to Annan’s visit to Moscow, Beijing

Syrians living in Lebanon shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration after Friday prayers in Beirut. (Reuters)

Government forces bombed towns and clashed with rebels in several areas of Syria on Friday, as thousands of people took part in “Damascus, here we come” demonstrations, monitors and activists said as Kofi Annan heads to Moscow and Beijing this weekend to hold talks over Syria.

As many as 33 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, activists told Al Arabiya.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the crowds in all the hot spots of anti-regime revolt across the country numbered hundreds of thousands, according to AFP.

In the capital itself, five people were wounded in Kfar Sousa district as security forces opened fire to disperse protesters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory.

Mortar fire crashed into the Bab Dreib, Safsafa et Warsheh districts of Homs city, in central Syria, killing five people, it said.

Large demonstrations nationwide

Security forces opened fire at demonstrators in Hama province, also in central Syria, where army deserters killed a soldier, the monitoring group said, without giving an immediate toll for the protesters.

The Observatory said at least three soldiers and a rebel were killed in Aazaz, near the Turkish border.

The city of Aazaz is strategically positioned on the road to safety in neighboring Turkey for wounded and fleeing civilians as well as being a supply route for Free Syrian Army rebels.

In Maaret al-Numan and other towns of Idlib province, also on the border with Turkey, demonstrators gathered after Muslim weekly prayers in mosques, calling for the trial of regime leaders, said the Observatory.

Large demonstrations were reported in the northern city and region of Aleppo as well as in the Kurdish city of Qamishli on the border with Turkey.

The state news agency SNAA reported that “several terrorists” were killed in the Sermin region of Idlib and in the Aleppo region an army engineer was killed by a bomb under a bridge that was detonated by remote control.

In videos posted online by activists, protests were also seen in the southern province of Deraa, birthplace of the year-long revolt in Syria that monitors say has cost more than 9,100 lives.

Opposition activists said hundreds of people took part in night-time protests in areas of the capital.

“Bomb us instead of Deraa, Homs and Hama,” cities where hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed in a crackdown on anti-regime protests, the demonstrators chanted in Rukneddin neighborhood, according to activists.

The reports could not be confirmed because of restrictions on the movements of foreign media.

Kofi Annan to visit Russia and China

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan left Syria with little sign of progress. (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Kofi Annan, joint special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, will travel to Moscow and Beijing this weekend for talks on the crisis in Syria, his spokesman said on Friday.

A team sent by Annan has returned from three days of “intensive and businesslike” talks in Damascus on implementing his six-point peace plan aimed at stopping the killing, securing humanitarian aid and launching a political dialogue with the Syrian opposition, spokesman Ahmed Fawzi said in a statement.

“Mr Annan and his team are currently studying the Syrian responses carefully, and negotiations with Damascus continue,” Fawzi said, according to Reuters.

Annan will meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, but his program in Beijing is still being finalized, Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. The Russian news agency Interfax has said Annan is expected in Moscow for talks on Saturday.

Annan announced a week ago that he was sending experts to the Syrian capital to discuss deployment of international monitors, part of his plan to halt the bloodshed.

The team included senior political officers and also experts in peacekeeping, military planning and logistics.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China, threw its weight behind Annan’s efforts to end the bloody conflict in a rare moment of unity.

Asked whether Annan would be returning to Damascus for talks with President Bashar al-Assad, Fawzi replied: “He will at some point decide to go back, but this is not the time yet.”

“The crisis on the ground is severe as we all know. We have to make progress sooner rather than later. Every minute counts. He wants to move ahead as quickly as possible,” Fawzi said. “A unified (Security) Council is extremely important. Many of those states have influence on the parties in question.”

Separately the United Nations was presenting a regional plan on Friday aimed at providing assistance to Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, which was hosting closed-door talks in Geneva, said it was appealing to donors for $84 million to assist 100,000 people for the next six months.

So far more than 34,000 Syrian refugees have fled the country, according to the Geneva-based agency.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has estimated that a further 200,000 people are displaced within Syria.

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