Tens of thousands of Syrians marched in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, as activists said 15 more people, including nine soldiers, died in the latest violence.
The demonstrators swarmed to Omayyad square in the heart of the capital, 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 pro-regime show of power came as an Arab delegation led by Qatar arrived in Syria for mediation between the government and its opponents. 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.
Ahead of the arrival of the delegation, the Syrian opposition called for a general strike across the country. According to AFP, the Syrian National Council, urged "all categories of people to go on strike" on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that 15 more people, including nine soldiers, had been killed in recent incidents. "Nine servicemen, including an officer of the Syrian regular army, were killed by a rocket, fired by armed men, probably deserters. The soldiers were on a vehicle in Al-Hamrat village, on the Hama-Salamiyah road," the rights group said.
The observatory said that four civilians were also killed and 17 others wounded by security forces in the central Homs region.