Syrian protesters on tank
Syrian protesters on tankIsrael news photo: ShamSNN screenshot

Syrian opposition forces called a general strike Sunday, hoping to further cripple the country's economy and hasten the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, despite fears of a bloodbath. Anti-government protests hurried to organize sit-ins and close their shops, businesses and universities in cooperation with the civil disobedience action.

The strike comes amid rising fears expressed by the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) of a bloody "invasion" by government troops of the centrally-located protest hotbed city of Homs. "Shabiha" government militiamen in hundreds of armored vehicles have set up more than 60 checkpoints in a ring around the city, according to the SNC.

"Inhabitants fear a large invasion of the city," added the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, noting that residents have estimated more than 200 armored vehicles have arrived at the city during the past two weeks.

"There are security leaks spreading that the regime decided to extinguish the revolution in Homs within 72 hours by giving the security forces and Shabiha (militia) unlimited powers to not be merciful towards the unarmed civilians," the English-language statement said.

At least 41 civilians, including seven children, were shot dead by security forces on Friday, according to the organization. Fourteen others were killed on Saturday, including four who were among mourners at a funeral in Ma'aret Numan, in Idlib province, and three hit by machine gun fire in Hama.

Despite his agreement to accept a delegation of foreign observers to monitor compliance with an agreement to end violence against unarmed civilian protesters, the Syrian president has since begun to resist the Arab League initiative.

Instead, he is demanding as a precondition for compliance that the League first lift all sanctions, nullify its suspension of Syria's membership and reverse all its decisions regarding his regime's brutality -- the very tools that were approved by  the 22-member Arab League in order to enforce that compliance.

Meanwhile, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner (UNHRC) Navi Pillay has issued a statement warning that more than 4,000 people have already died in the government crackdowns on civilian protests that began last March. Thousands of others have been wounded, and many tortured after being arbitrarily arrested and detained -- with many who later "disappear" -- including more than 200 children.

The UNHRC has charged Assad with crimes against humanity, ruling that he is personally responsible for the horrific atrocities committed by his troops against his people.

Pillay is scheduled to brief a session of the U.N. Security Council on the situation in Syria, and the wider Middle East, on Monday.