Thirty more Killed As Assad Thugs Open Fire on peaceful demonstrators
The shootings allegedly took place in Homs – the third-largest city – and Hama as the military deployed tanks to quell the rebels’ marches.
Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers and called – once more – for long-standing leader President Bashar al Assad to step down.
Hundreds of rebels have been killed since the uprisings began in February – but unlike Middle East neighbours Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian leader is clinging on to power with force.
The veracity of the amateur footage can not be independently verified due to reporting restrictions in Syria.
A human rights campaigner in Homs, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Five bodies were picked up in Bab al-Sibaa area.
“There are scores of injured protesters. Thousands are still marching peacefully in other parts of Homs.”
And an eyewitness told Sky News: “The (demonstration) I was on was several thousand strong. It all happened really fast. When they (security forces) saw the crowd coming they opened fire.
“The shooting came from ground level and rooftops. I just ran. Even after it finished I could still hear sporadic firing. It’s reported five people were killed – I knew two of them.”
Meanwhile, thousands of villagers from southern Syrian towns amassed near the city of Deraa and chanted slogans demanding the overthrow of President Bashar, witnesses said.
They said villagers, prevented from entering the besieged Deraa, which remains encircled by tanks after it was stormed nearly two weeks ago, flocked to Tafas, eight miles to the northwest.
Protesters were gathering in a square near the old mosque, carrying placards with the word “leave.”
Security forces apparently used live ammunition and tear gas in the town of Hama against protesters after Friday prayers.
Hama is renowned in Syria as the site of a massacre orchestrated by President al Assad’s father and uncle in 1982, during which tens of thousands died.
Security forces have also arrested opposition leader Riad Seif at a protest in the city, his daughter and human rights campaigners said.
“My father was shoved into a bus with other protestors who were detained during the demonstration near the al-Hassan mosque,” Jumana Seif told Reuters.
Tanks were reported to have earlier taken up positions in the urban centres of Homs, Rastan and Banias.
Amateur footage from Banias earlier showed cars fleeing the coastal town as transporters ferried in armour. Other images posted on Youtube showed dozens of tanks heading towards Homs.
Sky foreign editor Tim Marshall, reporting from Beirut because foreign media outlets are banned by Syria‘s authorities, said: “Our sources indicated that a flashpoint would be near Deraa as the town is believed to be encircled by troops.”
Syria has always been one of the region’s most repressive, secretive regimes, so these media controls are no surprise. They have also watched the other Arab revolutions and tried to learn from them, and may have calculated that giving the media access to Libya was one of Gaddafi’s mistakes.
The action on Friday comes after more than 260 people were arrested in Saqba on Thursday, according to activists.
President Bashar has moved to crush the unprecedented protests against his regime, which began about seven weeks ago, as the ruling elite struggles to maintain its grip on power.
Putting on a brave face, the president laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier on Friday where an orchestrated mob of supporters surrounded him.
Human r ights campaigners say army, security forces and gunmen loyal to Mr al Assad have killed at least 580 civilians.
Thousands of people have been arrested and beaten, including the elderly, women and children.
Friday prayers, marking the end of the working week, is the only time that large groups of people can normally gather easily and avoid the wrath of the regime.
Protesters have claimed the government crackdown has backfired and rather than deterring the protesters, it simply fuelled people’s anger.
“Indiscriminate killings and inhumane arrests have generated total disgust among the average Syrian,” one doctor said.
“Soldiers with rifles no longer deter people. The propaganda that this regime is the only guarantor of stability no longer washes.”
Syrian authorities, however, insist disturbances have been organised by subversives abroad.
“The Syrian government position is that it denies the claims of protesters and says it has cracked down on ‘terrorists’ supported by foreign elements,” Marshall said.
Protests have flared in towns and cities across Syria
The city itself was under an effective siege for 10 days, with mass arrests reported as the army shelled and firing machineguns into the city’s old quarter.
The Syrian army apparently pulled back from the flashpoint town on Thursday as Red Cross officials attempted to deliver food, water and medical supplies.