Syrian regime forces pressed the attack in the northern province of Idlib Thursday, driving 1,000 refugees across the Turkish border as the bloody revolt against President Bashar al-Assad entered a second year with no sign of a peaceful solution.
Forty-five civilians were killed in the frontier province, including 23 found dead with their hands tied behind their backs, as well as five army deserters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group told Reuters.
Even one bullet from a Kalashnikov was responded with by a tank shell, Mazen Arja, an opposition media activist in Idlib, told the Los Angeles Times of the unequal battle there.
The bloodshed and continued flow of refugees prompted Turkey to suggest it might support a buffer zone inside Syria, a move likely to enrage Damascus.
Meanwhile, the six countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council will close their Syrian embassies, the council said Thursday, calling on the international community to stop what is going on in Syria.
The action, the council said, confirms its position rejecting the Syrian regime's persistence in killing unarmed Syrian people and ignoring all efforts to resolve the current tragic situation in Syria, CNN reported.
Abdullatif Al-Zayani, the council's secretary-general, also called on the international community to take urgent and firm actions to stop what is going on in Syria, including killing, torturing and flagrant violations of the human rights of the Syrian people.
In an orchestrated show of support for Assad, huge crowds took to the streets of Syria's cities Thursday, the first anniversary of unrest that began as largely peaceful protests against four decades of iron rule by the Assad dynasty.
Opposition activists said regime forces shot at crowds in various locations when they tried to protest, but residents reported that demonstrators did gather in the smart Shaalan district of Damascus to voice their anger.
The U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan was due to brief the United Nations Security Council on Friday about his talks in Damascus and proposals to end the violence.
The door of dialogue is still open. We are still engaged with Syrian authorities over Mr. Annan's proposals, Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in Geneva. He's been in telephone contact with the Syrian foreign minister during the course of the day ... as well as with international actors, member states with influence.
Western diplomats expressed pessimism in private over Annan's chances of success.
Syria said on Wednesday it had given a positive response to Annan's approach. A Middle Eastern diplomat characterized the reply from Damascus as not a 'No'. But a senior Western diplomat in the region said Damascus had spurned Annan's ideas.
Official media announced government forces had cleared armed terrorists from the city of Idlib, suggesting the army was gaining ground against the uprising, which has killed at least 8,000 people and crippled the economy.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three soldiers were killed in Homs, further south.
Turkey said 1,000 Syrians had crossed its borders in the last 24 hours, fleeing fighting in Idlib, raising the total of registered Syrian refugees in Turkey to 14,000. Among those who escaped was a Syrian general, the seventh to cross into Turkey.
Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Besir Atalay told NTV television that Turkey, which hosts Syrian opposition activists, was working closely with the Arab League to tackle the problem.
Turkey set up a buffer zone along the border with Iraq during the Gulf War in the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of refugees headed towards Turkish territory.