Thousands of Syrians have crossed into Turkey since the unrest began [Reuters]
Protests in Syria have escalated into what some are calling a burgeoning civil war, and the United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March last year. The government blames "terrorists" and "armed gangs" for the unrest and says more than 2,500 members of its security forces have been killed.
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Government forces' continued shelling of the Syrian city of Homs has left some neighbourhoods unrecognisable.Satellite images taken this Mach reveal a deserted city centre, destroyed areas and heavy deployment of tanks across the city.This contracts to the images shot in August, which showed a busy city of around a million.The latest imagery, commissioned by Al Jazeera, provides a snapshot of what appears to be an increasingly dire situation.UN observers have so far asked to be allowed in Homs to provide an assessment, but the government has so far refused.Al Jazeera's Steve Chao reports.
China said on Friday that it was willing to send observers to monitor a United Nations (UN) cease-fire aimed at stopping 13 months of fighting in Syria.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters that Beijing was "willing to send people", a change from a day earlier, when he said China was only considering the move.
"We are in the middle of discussing specific arrangements with the UN secretariat. China supports any efforts helpful for ending violence and launch political dialogue in Syria," he said.
He did not give details on how many observers China would send, or on any financial contribution, saying that Beijing was still in talks with UN officials.
"We hope that Syria can restore its domestic stability and normal order as soon as possible. We will continue to play a positive and constructive role in facilitating a fair, peaceful and proper resolution on the Syria issue," he said.
Russia circulated on Friday a draft UN Security Council resolution to authorize the deployment to Syria of up to 300 more unarmed ceasefire observers and hopes that it will be put to a vote in the coming days, council diplomats said.
There are seven monitors already in Syria after the council authorized an advance team of up to 30 on Saturday.
A new resolution is needed for a further "initial deployment" of up to 300 as recommended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Some council members, however, have expressed reluctance to give swift approval for an expanded observer mission because of concern about the failure of the Syrian government to halt the violence, return troops to barracks and withdraw heavy weapons.
"I can confirm Russia just circulated a draft," a council diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"Not yet clear when the vote will be."
He added that it could be voted on over the weekend, though another envoy said the vote would most likely he held next week.
"There's a (council) meeting now at the Russian mission to discuss the draft," a diplomat said.
The 15-member Security Council has been divided between Western countries that want to topple Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Russia and China, which support him and have twice vetoed council resolutions condemning Assad.
But on Saturday Russia and China joined the rest of the council in voting for a resolution to authorize the deployment of the first batch of UN monitors.
It is unusual for Russia to draft a Security Council text.
Russia has only recently begun drafting council resolutions on issues like piracy in Somalia, the conflict in Libya and the crisis in its ally and top weapons customer Syria.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday: "We should do everything we can to adopt, as soon as possible, a second resolution that will approve a full-scale observer mission."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a French news channel on Friday that France was also drafting a resolution designed to allow a larger observer force to be deployed in Syria with up to 500 observers as well as helicopters.
Hundreds of protesters in the Idlib town of Kfar Nebel are chanting prayers to God to "quicken the victory" againt Assad's regime.
The Assad couple's lifestyle is the next target of EU sanctions on the Syrian regime, with the bloc ready to ban exports of luxury items, diplomats said Friday.
"Sanctions are ready," said an EU diplomat who asked not to be named.
"We will see Monday, depending on the situation on the ground, if European Union foreign ministers decide to adopt them or not" at talks in Luxembourg.
This 14th round of EU sanctions would concern luxury goods and so-called dual-use goods which can be used for internal repression or for the manufacturing of equipment used for internal repression, a senior EU diplomat said.
By targeting luxury items, the EU is "symbolically" targeting the lifestyle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his British-born wife Asma, said a European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The Assad couple, as well as his inner circle and leaders of the regime must be made to understand that events in Syria will also impact their personal lives," the source told AFP news agency.
The EU a month ago tightened the noose on Assad's family, slapping a travel ban and asset freeze on his wife, mother and sister in the 13th round of EU sanctions in a year.
His immediate family were among 12 people and two oil companies added to an existing EU blacklist totalling 126 people and 41 firms or utilities.
We have received videos from the Damascus district of Jobar that purports to show an anti-government protest and the ensuing crackdown by security forces.
The first video is said to show protesters coming out of the Um Amara mosque after Friday prayer.
Activists say the second shows security forces dispersing the rally. Protesters are heard chanting anti-Assad slogans.
The United Nations hopes to get permission from the Syrian government in the coming days to send more aid workers to help at least 1 million people in need of urgent assistance, a top U.N. humanitarian official said on Friday.
Syria has recognised there are "serious humanitarian needs" and that action is required, but logistical issues and visas for aid workers are still being discussed, said John Ging, director of operations of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"Now it's a question of implementing those plans. This is where we are needing to mobilise more effective engagement with the Syrians to get that plan fully up and running," Ging said.
"The next step in the process which we want to see concluded in a matter of days ... is to get agreement on the operationalisation of the plan and concurrent with that the mobilisation of the resources to make it happen," he said.
It was important to get Syrian agreement on the plan and to mobilise partner aid agencies for what Ging said would be a "major humanitarian operation".
He was speaking to reporters after the Syrian Humanitarian Forum was held in Geneva to discuss a $180 million assistance plan for six months aimed at helping an estimated 1 million within Syria.
Supporters of the Future movement and the Lebanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaa Islamiyah, demonstrated against the Syrian regime after Friday prayer in Beirut's Tariq al-Jadideh neighbourhood. [AFP]
Timor Goksel, a former UN spokesman who served with the UN Interim Force UNIFIL for more than 20 years in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that the "worst mistake" people are doing in regards to the observer mission in Syria is to create expectations the monitors cannot fulfil.
They're not there to solve the problems, they're a conflict management instrument. ... When people see these observers cannot solve the problem, they will be disappointed, and they might withdraw their cooperation with them.
"They will be under tremendous pressure from all sides, to listen to them and agree with them. Every party of the conflict will try to get them on their side
"Syria has since 1994 had UN observer missions in the Golan Heights. They are very experienced in dealing with the UN and they know that UN's neutral, professional reports can go against their interests. So they will do everything ... to influence them.
"But this UN mission - unlike the Arab League mission [in January] - does not need the Syrians' logistical support. The UN has all the means - communications, vehicles, logistics - to do their job themselves, without asking anything from the Syrians.
"But they need one thing from the Syrians, and that's what the Syrians are going to use - they [the UN] are telling the Syrians that 'you are responsible for the safety and the security of these observers. That gives Syria a lot of latitude in saying 'you cannot go there today, it's not safe'."
Syrian state TV reports that 10 security personnel have been killed by a roadside bomb in Sahm al-Golan, in southern Syria.
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