An unidentified military source told SANA, the state news agency, that reports of a schism in the military, which were aired on foreign-based news channels, are false. The military, it said, continues to counter “extremist and terrorist groups” in Dara’a.

The privately-owned Al-Watan newspaper said the reports of dissension in the ranks were part of a misinformation campaign carried out by foreign media to foment a split in the unity of the army and divide the nation.

According to SANA, 295 internal security personnel have been injured since protests began. Human Rights groups now say at least 450 civilians have been killed since March 15 including a number of children.

The government initially said protesters had “legitimate desires for reform” but official statements in recent weeks have focused on what they say are “armed gangs” and “terrorists” that want to violently overthrow the government with outside help.

Analyst Rami Khouri writing in Lebanon’s Daily Star thinks the protest movement is more diverse than this. “Many of the Syrian protest leaders and human rights groups are coordinating to form a unified movement that makes coherent demands of the regime, reflecting widespread indigenous citizen concerns that cannot be credibly dismissed as the work of Islamic radicals or foreign agents,” he wrote.

This analysis seems to be supported by a statement issued by a leader of the Bakkara, a powerful tribe who live predominantly in the Jazeera region. Al-Watan quoted Omar Ashour, a prominent figure in the tribe, who said President Bashar al-Assad encouraged the decision, which aims to form a united movement including civic and tribal leaders from all areas of the country to work together on a program of national reconciliation.

Hundreds of Ba’ath Party officials apparently resigned yesterday in protest at the continued crackdown on dissent, Reuters reported. As the news of 233 resignations in Banias and Dara’a came in, the UN Security Council was meeting to discuss Syria. Nothing as yet has been reported in the Syrian media about the resignations.

A draft statement criticising Syria proposed by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal and backed by the US was blocked by Russia, Lebanon and China.

According to the private Syrian news agency Cham Press, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will meet with EU and the US ambassadors today “to brief them on the situation in Syria and on files about sabotage acts being committed by terrorist groups”. The report also said a “new package of reforms” would be issued by President Assad in the next few days.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle issued a correction in Al-Watan, which yesterday said in an editorial that his assertion that ‘missiles’ were stationed in Dara’a was “deeply shocking”. Westerwelle said the comment was lost in translation. He in fact meant to say that artillery had been positioned in the town.

Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, said violence was the result of "extremist groups".

In other news, Al-Jazeera Arabic has suspended its services in Syria following what Reuters reported as “sustained pressure [on its staff] to resign from the news channel.”

Syria remains a candidate for joining the UN Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body within the UN system comprising 47 member states.

There had been speculation that Syria’s ascension might be blocked by other states, critical of the recent actions of the government, such as the UK and France.

President Assad today ordered the Governor of Hassakeh Muatha Najeeb Salloum to issue condolences to the families of those killed by flooding last Friday.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture Riyad Farid Hijab told Syrians not to stockpile food, adding that supplies are sufficient to meet people’s demands over the coming weeks. Hijab also signed an agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN on a project to develop irrigated rice crops as “rice requires less water to grow than wheat”.

Finally, SANA reported that Syria has won first prize in the Third Baghdad International Flower Show, beating off 20 other countries and 50 Iraqi participants.

Syria Today (Syria)