Last week Amnesty International issued a report stating that injured protesters in at least four Syrian state hospitals have been subjected to torture, including by medical staff.
Injured dissidents are now refusing to be taken to hospitals, from where they can be kidnapped by police, and are turning to makeshift first-aid stations set up by the pro-democracy movement.
The number killed by the state during the uprising, which began in March, is now well over 3,000.
On 28 October a further 37 people were murdered by regime thugs during mass protests. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 100 others were wounded and 500 arrested across several provinces.
Radwan Ziadeh, of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights, estimates the state has also detained 30,000 people: “The Syrian regime has cancelled the football championship because they turned over all the soccer fields to be detention and torture centres.” The Al-Fayhaa stadium in Damascus, the Assad stadium in Latakia, and the main stadium in the city of Daraa are all being used to hold thousands of prisoners, he added.
Last Friday’s marches took place under the demand for a UN-organised, Libyan-style no-fly zone. Such demands are gaining ground.
Leaders of the Free Syrian Army, a grouping of armed forces defectors, have been particularly vocal, saying a no-fly zone and a naval blockade could allow them to establish a base inside the country to launch a campaign to bring down Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The Free Syrian Army is a merger of two movements of army defectors and says it has 22 “battalions” across the country with a central command based in Turkey. They claim 15,000 defectors from an army of 220,000. Such claims seem high, especially given how hard and dangerous it is to defect. The army restricts leave and mobile phone use, moves recruits regularly and mixes units to stop dissident groups coalescing.
Nevertheless the regime is highly alarmed.
It seems the role of army defectors is changing. At first they simply fled. Next they took part in defensive actions, aiming to protect crowds of protesters. Now they seem to have begun attacking convoys and checkpoints.
Fierce clashes have taken place in Homs. Other fighting has happened in Rastan, Idlib near the Turkish border and al-Bukamal on the Iraq border.
Earlier this week Reuters reported that seven soldiers where killed in Maarat al-Numaan, 230 km north of Damascus, when their armoured convoy came under attack from deserters.
And early on the morning of Saturday 29 October the Syrian Observatory reported that 17 soldiers had died in overnight clashes between troops and deserters in Homs. An activist on the ground quoted by the Observatory said, “More than 40 people were killed or wounded and two armoured vehicles destroyed,” after an officer and dozens of soldiers defected.
Clashes continued in the Duwar al-Rayess neighbourhood of Homs where a loud blast was heard after an armoured car was hit, the Observatory said, adding that smoke could be seen billowing from a government building.