Mass rally in support of Assad as two more killed

Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, as activists said his security forces shot and killed two more civilians.

The demonstrators, waving Syrian flags and brandishing pictures of Assad, swarmed to Umayyad mosque in the heart of Damascus for the rally, chanting, "The people want Bashar al-Assad."

State news agency SANA said the demonstration was being held under the banner, "Long live the homeland and the chief of the homeland; the Syrian people are one family."

The mass show of support for Assad came as an Arab delegation led by Qatar was headed for Damascus for mediation between the Syrian government and its opponents, and amid a new flareup of violence.

Headed by Qatar, the delegation includes the foreign ministers of Algeria Egypt, Oman and Sudan, in addition to Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi. It was due to begin talks with Syrian officials in the capital mid-afternoon.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a civilian was killed when security forces fired rocket-propelled grenades in several neighborhoods of the flashpoint city of Homs, while another died in a military barrage in Edleb province.

The Syrian opposition meanwhile called for a general strike across the country in protest against the regime's brutal crackdown on protest that has left at least 3,000 people dead since mid-March, according to UN figures.

Syria's leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, urged "all categories of people to go on strike" on Wednesday ahead of the launch of a massive general strike and campaign of civil disobedience aimed at toppling the regime.

"The strike is an expression of the desire to pursue a peaceful campaign until victory," a NSC statement said, adding that a strike had been observed in Daraa, cradle of the protests, for the past six days.

At an urgent session in Cairo on October 16, the 22-member Arab League called for "national dialogue" between Syria's government and the opposition by the end of October to help end the violence and avoid "foreign intervention" in Syria.

Syria's representative to the Arab League Youssef Ahmad had slammed what he said was a "conspiracy" against President Bashar al-Assad's regime at the Cairo meeting.

The initiative has also been opposed by the opposition.

"Arabs, do not get more involved in the bloodshed against us," said a statement by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a coalition representing some 40 opposition blocs.

"We will not accept anything less than Bashar al-Assad's resignation and his trial," they said.

Protests against the Syrian regime erupted in March and have shown no signs of dying down despite the rising death toll.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon  

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