UN team to join humanitarian mission in Syria
The UN has said it will participate in a humanitarian mission in Syria this weekend to assess the situation there.
Its team will be part of a delegation led by the Syrian government, which will also include staff from the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.
They will visit centres of protest and violence, such as Homs, Hama and Deraa.
The announcement comes on the first anniversary of the uprising against the Syrian regime, which the UN estimates has claimed more than 8,000 lives.
In a statement, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos stressed the importance of "unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies".
"There is no time to waste," she said.
The UN's announcement came after a coalition of 200 aid and rights groups called on Russia and China to support UN attempts to end the violence in Syria.
At the political level, Russia and China have both vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.
On the ground on Wednesday, the Syrian authorities began shelling the southern city of Deraa - the birthplace of the protests - after retaking Idlib, near the Turkish border in the north-west, earlier this week.
Turkey says it has seen a sharp increase in the flow of refugees across its border in recent days.
"The number of Syrian refugees currently staying in Turkey boomed by 1,000 in a single day and climbed to 14,700 total," foreign ministry spokesperson Selcuk Unal told reporters in Ankara, adding that he expected the numbers to continue rising.
Meanwhile, thousands of people joined a pro-government rally in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Thursday to denounce the "year-old conspiracy" against the regime.
Mr Assad has always insisted his troops are fighting "armed terrorist gangs" who are seeking to destabilise Syria.
'End the horror'
In a statement, the aid groups from 27 countries - including Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Civicus, and International Federation of Human Rights - called on the Security Council to unite in passing a resolution condemning the Syrian government's use of violence, torture and arbitrary detention against civilians.
Souher Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said Syrians had "survived with outstanding courage one year of systematic and widespread crimes and bloodshed as the world stood by and watched".
"The international community must unite and help Syrians bring an end to the horror."
They said the international community must give its full support to Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general who is acting as the UN and Arab League's envoy to Syria.
Mr Annan visited Syria over the weekend to deliver a proposed peace plan to Mr Assad, which includes demands for an immediate ceasefire by both sides, access for humanitarian aid, and the beginning of political dialogue.
A spokesman said he had received a response from Mr Assad but had questions about it and "and was seeking answers".
Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Maqdisi told the BBC that Mr Assad's response had been positive because he wanted Mr Annan's mission to succeed.
History of a revolution
Bahrain added further pressure, announcing on Thursday it was closing its embassy in Damascus and withdrawing all staff from Syria because of deteriorating conditions.
A number of countries, including the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands and Italy have already closed or suspended their embassies.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted that the answer to crisis was not to arm the opposition, as some Gulf states have suggested.
"If we give arms to a certain faction of the Syrian opposition, we will create the conditions for a civil war... and that could become an even bigger catastrophe than we have now," he said.
The first protest in Syria took place on the streets of Damascus, on 15 March 2011, amid the wave of political unrest across the Middle East and North Africa.
A few days later, there were clashes in Deraa, as crowds protested against the arrest and alleged torture of a group of schoolchildren who had written anti-government slogans on a wall.
The army was called into Deraa to restore order by the end of the month, but the unrest had already spread to towns and cities across the country. As the army began firing on civilians, the initial calls for more political freedom escalated into calls for the removal of Mr Assad and his government.