Security forces fired at protesters in several Syrian towns yesterday killing at least three, activists said.
A protester was killed in the town of Kanaker, 30km southwest of Damascus, and two were killed in the city of Homs. Security forces also fired live bullets to stop a crowd of several thousand from marching in Hama, 240km north of Damascus, they said.
“Lots of people fell on the ground with bullet wounds and we are afraid that some will not make it,” Mohammad, a resident of Kanaker, said by telephone.
Protests in and around Damascus also came under fire. Three protesters were wounded when they marched out of the main mosque in the southern city of Deraa, activists added.
In the port city of Latakia, an activist said he counted 13 security pick-up trucks surrounding the main Arsalan mosque. He said at least three protesters were wounded by security forces firing in front of the Bazar mosque in the center of the city.
“They were hit and taken by the security forces. In front of every mosque in Latakia there are several hundred security personnel touting either batons, handguns or automatic rifles,” he said.
In Maarat al-Numaan, a main town on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, a resident said troops manned roadblocks and snipers took positions on rooftops.
“Freedom, freedom despite you, Assad,” shouted thousands of protesters in the town.
The violence comes despite an agreement the Syrian government made with the Arab League this week to stop shooting and start talking to its opponents.
The latest deaths followed a bloody day in Homs, where activists said at least 22 people were killed as tanks shelled the Bab Amro district and troops and snipers fired elsewhere in the city, a hotbed of protests and an emerging insurgency.
Dozens of civilians were killed in the city of Homs on Thursday, activists said, a day after Syria agreed to an Arab League plan to pull the army out of cities, free political prisoners and hold talks with opposition leaders.
Syria is under mounting outside pressure to halt its seven-month crackdown on mass demands for political reforms and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation.
In Homs on Thursday, tanks pounded a residential district and a witness who declined to be named said he saw dozens of civilian bodies at the National Hospital, which is controlled by the security forces.
The circumstances of their death were not clear.
“We have already seen the regime’s bloody response to the Arab initiative today in the form of intensified shelling on Homs, just after it had agreed to pull out its troops from urban areas and stop violence against the civilian population,” said Ahmad Ramadan, spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council.
“The way the regime reacts to protests tomorrow [yesterday] will also be important toward gauging its commitment to the initiative. If its forces keep firing on protesters, Arab states may be forced to take a more decisive position and support the case for international protection for civilians,” Ramadan said.
The UN says more than 3,000 people have been killed in the crackdown. The authorities blame the violence on Islamist militants and armed gangs who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who heads the Arab League committee behind the plan agreed in Cairo, said on Thursday: “We are happy to have reached this agreement and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately.”