Friday, December 16, 2011

Syrian troops fire at protesters after prayers

 Syrian security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters after Friday prayers at several locations around the country, while the army sent reinforcements into a southern area where military defectors recently launched deadly attacks on regime troops.
The Local Coordination Committees and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one person was killed in the shooting in the restive central city of Homs, and a man who was wounded in the southern province of Daraa earlier in the day died of his wounds.
Friday's protests, which took place nationwide, came a day after Syrian army defectors killed 27 government security personnel in Daraa in apparently coordinated attacks that were among the deadliest by rebel troops so far.
Syria has seen a sharp escalation in armed clashes recently, raising concerns the country of 22 million is headed toward civil war. The U.N. raised its death toll for the Syrian uprising substantially this week, saying more 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt began nine months ago.
The Observatory said more than 200,000 people marched in different neighborhoods of Homs to denounce President Bashar Assad's regime. The turnout could not be confirmed as Syrian authorities have banned most journalists from covering events on the ground.
The Observatory also reported shooting near a mosque in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour but it was unclear if there were casualties there.
The LCC said anti-government rallies took place after Friday prayers all across Syria — from Daraa to the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, in Homs and Hama in the country's center, and to the north in the city of Aleppo.
A Homs-based activist, said about 10,000 protesters took part in a demonstration in the tense neighborhood of Khaldiyeh alone and dispersed peacefully without being attacked by security forces. Tens of thousands took part in other protests around the city, said the activist who asked that his name not be made public for fear of government reprisals.
He said security forces opened fire in the air before the protesters came out of mosques, but as soon as they came out to the streets the shooting stopped.
"The people want to execute the president," the crowds in Khaldiyeh chanted, according to the activist. Security personnel watched from a distance.
"It might be a goodwill gesture by the regime ahead of the Russian initiative," the activist said, referring to Russian attempts at the U.N. to end the crisis. "It looks as if the regime is showing tacit approval of the Russian initiative."
Russia began circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday it said was designed to resolve the conflict in Syria. The draft calls for an end to all violence.
Russia has criticized opponents of Assad's rule for employing violent tactics. Western nations said the Russian draft did not go far enough, because it contained no sanctions against the regime.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has denied issuing orders to kill protesters. But New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday that dozens of military commanders and officials authorized or gave direct orders for widespread killings and torture.
The LCC said troop reinforcements deployed in different areas in Daraa on Friday, and that electricity was cut in several locations. Daraa, where the uprising began in March, has been among the most tense regions in Syria.
Because of the turmoil, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Thursday that Canadians living in Syria should leave as soon as possible while commercial flights are still available. Washington issued a similar warning for U.S. citizens in September.

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