DAMASCUS: Anti-regime activists urged Syrians to take to the streets in their "millions" Friday to commemorate a notorious 1982 massacre in the city of Hama, despite a brutal crackdown by the regime on dissent.
Under the slogan "Hama, forgive us," the activists called for demonstrators to dress in black and to march after Friday prayers in honor of the estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people who died in the massacre ordered by the father of President Bashar al-Assad.
Rallies were staged in memory of the victims on Thursday as Western and Arab countries sought to reach agreement on a draft resolution to pressure Syria to end an almost 11-month crackdown on anti-regime protests.
The latest text being considered by members of the UN Security Council does not explicitly call on Assad to step down or mention an arms embargo or sanctions, though it "fully supports" an Arab League plan to facilitate a democratic transition.
Diplomats said Thursday that the new draft, which took into account concerns by Russia, a staunch ally of Damascus, would be sent back to their governments for deliberations. It was not immediately clear whether it would be approved and sent back to the 15-member council for a vote.
But diplomats played down expectations, with US ambassador Susan Rice saying: "We are still not there."
"There are still some complicated issues that our capitals will have to deliberate on and provide us with instructions," she said.
Relations between Russia and the West in the Security Council were badly strained over a resolution that authorized the use of force to protect civilians during Libya’s uprising last year.
The violence in Syria has killed more than 6,000 people since it erupted in March, according to rights groups.
The ruthless crackdown by the regime, however, and the mounting death toll has not deterred protesters from taking to the streets.
Demonstrations in various provinces are held on a near daily basis and in recent weeks have reached the doorstep of the capital, until now largely spared the unrest.
The central city of Homs has become a flashpoint of the revolt with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up of defectors and sympathizers, in control of several neighborhoods.
A video posted on YouTube Thursday showed about 20 armed members of the rebel army parading through the old city of Homs on board a military vehicle and hailed by residents.
The video could not be independently verified as the Syrian government has barred access to most foreign media except on escorted trips.
Also Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Right said one soldier was killed and five were wounded in clashes with members of the FSA in the village of Jasem, located in the southern province of Daraa.
Human Rights Watch meanwhile said in a report released Friday that children as young as 13 are a particular target in the "rampant" use of torture by Syrian government forces battling opposition protests.
While the United Nations says hundreds of children have been killed in the crackdown, the rights group highlighted cases of children shot in their homes or on the street, or grabbed from schools.
It documented 12 cases of children being tortured in detention centers and said many more may have suffered similar treatment.
"In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults," said Lois Whitman, children’s rights director at the New York-based organization.
The group’s report said more than 100 people who had been held by security forces "described rampant use of torture in detention centers against even the youngest detainees, even beyond the 12 cases specifically documented."
"Children, some as young as 13, reported to Human Rights Watch that officers kept them in solitary confinement, severely beat and electrocuted them, burned them with cigarettes, and left them to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time, centimeters above the floor," said the report.