Syrian opposition calls on army to join revolt

By BASSEM MROUE | May 26, 2011 | 10:15 AM EDT

Syrian street vendors sit in a historic street in old Damascus, an area which is usually teeming with visiting foreign tourist at this time of the year, in Damascus, Syria, on Thursday May 26, 2011. The uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad is eviscerating the country's economy, threatening to hit hard at the business community and prosperous merchant classes, which the embattled regime relies on to help retain its grip on power. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian opposition called on the nation's army Thursday to join the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime, saying regime elements are targeting protesters and troops.

The opposition said on Facebook that protests planned for Friday will honor the "Guardians of the Nation," a reference to the army.

The call appears to be an effort to break a stalemate after nearly 10 weeks of protests. During the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the armed forces broke with the regimes and sided with the protesters.

Human rights groups say the government's crackdown on dissent has killed more than 1,000 people, including dozens of soldiers over the past two months.

The regime blames the unrest on "armed groups," not reform-seekers.

The letter posted on the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page read that people took to the streets to demands freedom in Syria but "were assassinated by the same hands that assassinated our honorable soldiers."

"The revolution of freedom and dignity will continue, peacefully, until victory," it said adding that the only "armed gangs" in the country are security forces loyal to the regime and pro-government thugs known as Shabiha.

Assad appears determined to crush the revolt that is posing the most serious challenge to his family's 40-year rule. The harsh crackdown has triggered international outrage and U.S. and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.

Meanwhile, the head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria Ammar Qurabi said in a statement Thursday that Syrian and international human rights organizations have documented more than 1,100 killings and about 4,000 injuries "causing permanent disabilities to young men, women and children."

Also Thursday, the independent daily Al-Watan reported that Assad's British-born wife, Asma, met with victims' families a day earlier, contrary to persistent rumors that she fled to Britain with the couple's children. Asma Assad was born, raised and educated in Britain.