Monday, July 4, 2011

Syria Protests: Eighteen People Shot Dead During the Protest

DAMASCUS (AFP) – On Saturday, July 2, Syrians mourned 18 people shot dead by security forces in anti-government protests as Turkey built a huge tent city to shelter thousands of refugees fleeing a crackdown which the European Union described as "shocking".

Tens of thousands of Syrians surged onto the streets on Friday in response to a call by the Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind three months of protests against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Five people died in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh, six in the town of Kiswah, south of the capital, and seven in and around the central city of Homs, activists told AFP.

"Security forces tried to break up a rally calling for the fall of the regime with tear gas before opening fire," killing five people and wounding 25, an activist in Barzeh said.

Activists said dozens of people in Barzeh were arrested in house-to-house searches as a curfew was imposed on the neighbourhood.

In Kiswah, an activist told AFP that security forces opened fire almost immediately after the protest started.

"Demonstrators left the mosque after Friday prayers and marched for a few minutes until security forces opened fire to disperse them, killing five people and wounding six," said Mohammad Enad Suleiman.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a sixth death in Kiswah and said that security forces also gunned down three people in Homs and four people in the countryside outside.

The London-based watchdog said protests also broke out late Friday in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, where earlier in the day 30,000 had demonstrated against the regime, as well as in other parts of Syria.

It said around 100 people were arrested, more than 70 in Mareh near Syria's second-largest city Aleppo.

Protests in Aleppo have been muted since the pro-democracy protests erupted in mid-March.

But the Syrian Revolution 2011 called on demonstrators to "get ready for a volcano" in the city next Thursday, in a message posted on its main Facebook page.

State television blamed the civilian deaths in Barzeh on "armed men," saying they also wounded several security force members, including an officer.

It added that a police officer was also shot dead in the Damascus suburb of Kadam, and the official SANA news agency reported that "several members of the security forces were hit by gunfire in Kiswah."

The Syrian Observatory said that 1,332 civilians had now been killed in the government's crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule. It said that 341 security force personnel had also lost their lives.

Friday's protests were held under the slogan "Fall of legitimacy," with a Facebook page message reading: "Bashar is no longer my president and his government no longer represents me."

The government's crackdown triggered fresh condemnation from EU leaders who adopted a declaration in Brussels on Friday denouncing "in the strongest possible terms the ongoing repression and unacceptable and shocking violence the Syrian regime continues to apply against its own people."

This week the European Union expanded its sanctions against Syrian leaders to embrace 23 senior officials, including the embattled Assad, and three commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard accused of aiding the crackdown.

A sweep by the army through protest centres in the northwest has sent nearly 12,000 Syrians fleeing to safety in neighbouring Turkey, which is scrambling to build a giant tent city on its border with Syria.

More than 200 tents have already been erected in the camp while another 1,000 are due to be ready in a week in the village of Apaydin, in Hatay province on the border, with a capacity to accommodate up to 15,000 people, village headman Omer Cagatay said.

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