An anniversary marked by death and destruction


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The Independent Online

After more than 8,000 civilian deaths, a full-scale bombardment of one of the country's largest cities and renewed fears of all-out civil war, the first anniversary of Syria's uprising was marked by flag-waving rallies from regime supporters in Damascus yesterday – and more death and destruction in the country's northern borderlands.

As thousands of President Bashar al-Assad's supporters demonstrated in the centre of the capital to declare their allegiance to Syria's embattled leader (opposition activists claimed they had been bussed in), Baathist troops continued their campaign against rebel forces holed up in towns and villages along the northern border with Turkey.

Officials in Ankara, the Turkish capital, said that at least a thousand refugees had fled through the mountainous terrain of Idlib province over the past 24 hours, despite reports that Assad's soldiers had mined the area. Turkey's Interior Minister suggested yesterday that a "buffer zone" could be created to protect civilians from advancing troops, though he did not say how exactly it would work.

"The [Syrian] soldiers are taking the women and children and lining them up in front of them as a human shield," said one 22-year-old refugee, speaking to Reuters. "They are setting shops and homes on fire." Another said that troops in the countryside around Idlib were hunting down defectors and besieging towns suspected of harbouring dissidents

Fresh allegations of atrocities emerged yesterday, days after news broke of the Syrian regime's brutal campaign to quell Homs.

According to The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 23 corpses were found dumped on the outskirts of Idlib city. The bodies had been blindfolded and handcuffed and some showed signs of torture, said the rights group.

Yesterday's renewed violence came as President Assad tried to crush the last remnants of resistance from the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

After his generals brutally snuffed out the FSA's main base in Homs, the renewed push against fighters in Idlib marked an attempt to score a decisive victory against the Syrian government's remaining enemies.