At least 19 people were killed in violence-hit Syria on Wednesday, activists said, as tens of thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rallied in Damascus, in a show of support for the embattled leader.
The demonstrators, waving Syrian flags and brandishing pictures of Assad, swarmed to Omayyad Square, chanting, "The people want Bashar al-Assad."
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 19 people, including nine government soldiers, had been killed in the latest unrest between Assad loyalists and opponents.
"Nine servicemen, including an officer of the Syrian regular army, were killed by a rocket, fired by armed men, probably deserters. The soldiers were on a vehicle in al-Hamrat village, on the Hama-Salamiyah road," it said.
Clashes between security forces and soldiers who have deserted and joined the opposition calling for the ouster of Assad, have become more frequent in recent weeks, particularly in the center of the country.
The Britain-based Observatory said that seven civilians, including an 18-month-old baby, were killed and 17 wounded by security forces in the central Homs region, one of the bastions of the Syrian opposition.
Another civilian was killed by shots coming from a military checkpoint at Saraqeb, in the northwestern province of Idlib, while a 63-year-old man was killed in the eastern region of Abu Kamal, and a child in Douma, near the capital, it added.
The Syrian opposition called a nationwide general strike in protest against the regime's crackdown on dissent that has left at least 3,000 people dead since mid-March, according to U.N. figures.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organize protests on the ground, said it was widely followed in Daraa, southern Syria, in areas of Damascus, Idlib, and in Hama and Homs in the center of the country.
It posted videos on the Internet of deserted streets and shuttered shops.
The leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, urged "all categories of people to go on strike" on Wednesday ahead of the launch of massive campaign of civil disobedience.
"The strike is an expression of the desire to pursue a peaceful campaign until victory," an NSC statement said, adding that a strike had been observed in Daraa, cradle of the protests, for the past six days.
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