Syria's popular uprising entered its second year on Thursday as the death toll from President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown fast approaches 8,500.
Since March 15, 2011, an estimated 8,500 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria. More than 30,000 Syrians fled repression and took refuge in neighboring countries and some 200,000 were displaced within the country, according to the UN. The humanitarian situation is considered serious in some areas.
Amnesty International has denounced the "systematic torture" of detainees, saying it reached "a level not seen for years." According to international NGOs, Syrian journalist Mazen Darwish, who was arrested February 16 in Damascus, was tortured and his life is in danger.
As the conflict entered its second year,U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated that President Assad will step down no matter what as he spoke before his guest, British Prime Minister David Cameron.
But Russia complained about "significant delays" in the reforms promised by its Syrian ally, and the envoy, who has to report Friday to the UN mission about Syria, said he still looks for clarification by the regime on its proposals to stop the bloodshed.
Saudi Arabia, which has been very critical of the Assad regime, officially announced the closure of its embassy in Damascus and the withdrawal of its diplomats.
“Due the developments in Syria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has shut down its embassy in Damascus and withdrawn all its diplomats and staff there,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Syrian state television showed a demonstration in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his programme of reforms has taken place in Damascus with the participation of thousands of people. Opposition activists say Syrian forces prevented anti-government demonstrators from gathering in several cities.
On the ground, the Syrian army took control of the rebel stronghold of Idleb on Wednesday and intensified repression in other centers of protest in Syria, as a rebel leader said that Bashar al-Assad deserved a fate "worse" than the Libyan Muammar Gaddafi who was lynched when captured by rebels.
The repression has left at least 37 dead, according to opposition activists.
"There is more fighting in Idleb - the Free Syrian Army (FSA) withdrew and the army stormed the city and conducted house to house searches," said Noureddine al- Abdo, a local activist. "The FSA chose to retreat, everyone knows it is unable to cope with (firepower) of the army," he said.
Elsewhere in the country, the army killed 22 people during raids in Deraa (south) -15 civilians and seven military-dissidents, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR). Many injured people have not been evacuated because of snipers.
Five civilians were also killed in Qousseir in the province of Homs (center) and five in Idleb, reported SOHR. Deserters also died in clashes.
Moreover, Turkish officials said on Thursday that a government offensive in Syria's northwest has sharply increased the flow of refugees into Turkey, with about a thousand crossing in the last 24 hours.The United Nations estimates that some 230,000 Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including 30,000 who have fled abroad, raising the prospect of a refugee crisis.