Protesters gather in front of Syrian embassy, bearing posters depicting President Bashar Assad and Arabic writing that reads, "we love you," and "my sect is Syrian," in Amman, Jordan, Friday, March 9, 2012. (Photo: AP)
Activists called for rallies across Syria on Friday to demand "immediate military intervention" as international peace envoy Kofi Annan prepared to brief the deeply divided UN Security Council on his mission to end the year-long bloodshed.
Gulf Arab states announced they were following the lead of regional kingpin Saudi Arabia in closing their Damascus embassies in protest at the violence that has claimed more than 9,100 lives in 12 months, monitors said on the anniversary on Thursday of its outbreak.
Activists called on their Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011, for nationwide protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers to demand "immediate military intervention by the Arabs and Muslims, followed by the rest of the world."
Ahead of UN participation in a Syrian-led humanitarian mission to protest cities at the weekend, Annan was to give a videoconference briefing to the Security Council from Geneva at 1400 GMT on his talks with Assad in Damascus.
The briefing came amid mounting pessimism among diplomats of Western governments that have spearheaded demands for tough action about his mission's prospects for success.
The former UN chief has received a response to the "concrete proposals" he submitted to the Syrian leader last weekend but has more "questions and is seeking answers," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
He "is still in contact with the Syrian authorities -- the dialogue continues," Fawzi added.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for unity Monday as a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers exposed the stark divide between Arab and Western governments and Damascus allies Beijing and Moscow on how to respond to the crisis.
China and Russia have twice used their veto powers to block draft resolutions condemning the Syrian authorities, charging that they were unbalanced and aimed at regime change.
Moscow has also hit out at a new US draft saying that the onus it places on the regime to halt the violence first is unreasonable in a conflict that is now as much armed insurgency as peaceful protest movement.
It is a position that has angered human rights groups as the civilian death toll from security force assaults on protest centres mounts.
"City after city, town after town, Syria's security forces are using their scorched earth methods while the Security Council's hands remain tied by Russia and China," said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.
In a breakdown of the 9,113 deaths in the past 12 months, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the toll comprised 6,645 civilians, 1,997 members of the security forces and 471 rebels.
The Britain-based watchdog said 23 mutilated corpses were found on Thursday near the protest city of Idlib in northwestern Syria that was overrun by regime forces earlier this week.
The victims had been blindfolded and handcuffed before being shot and the bodies dumped outside Idlib, it said, in an apparent repeat of a "massacre" of dozens of women and children in the flashpoint central city of Homs last weekend.
It said at least 34 other people were killed in violence on Thursday, mostly in Idlib province, which lies on the border with Turkey, where the authorities said they were making contingency plans for a major exodus of refugees.
The Turkish foreign ministry said 1,000 Syrian refugees, including a defecting general, had crossed into the country in the 24 hours to Thursday. Turkey's Red Crescent warned up to 500,000 Syrians might flee across the border.
The United Nations is to send experts this week on a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission to the worst affected areas.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos stressed "it is increasingly vital that humanitarian organisations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies. There is no time to waste."
Participation in the government mission, which will go to protest cities Homs, Daraa and Hama where thousands have been killed, falls short of an earlier offer of a joint assessment mission.
Amos said technical staff from the UN and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation would join the mission "and take the opportunity to gather information on the overall humanitarian situation and observe first-hand the conditions."
Early Friday, the Gulf Cooperation Council announced that all six of its members states were closing their Damascus embassies after having last month withdrawn their ambassadors.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took the step in protest at the regime's "massacring its people, choosing the military option and rejecting all initiatives aimed at finding a solution to the crisis," GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said.
European Union foreign ministers will mull similar action next week, senior EU sources in Brussels confirmed to AFP.
A Brussels meeting next Thursday and Friday will focus on "possible closures" of the embassies in Syria of the 27 EU member states, one source said.
An EU official said that Europe is considering a coordinated withdrawal of all diplomatic contacts with Damascus ahead of the new push at the United Nations for action against Assad's regime.