Syrian security forces reportedly killed least 13 people in another day of violence again protesters calling for an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The bloodshed came as more mass demonstrations against the Assad regime were held in several places across the country following Friday prayers.
Activists and witnesses said five people were shot outside the capital, Damascus, one person was killed in Homs and another person in the central flashpoint city of Hama. Two people were reported killed in the northern city of Aleppo, one person in the besieged city Deir el-Zour in the east, and one person in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Military raids earlier in the day killed at least two people.
State-run news agency SANA also said two policemen were killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma when they came under fire.
Residents of Deir al-Zour who live near the Harwil Mosque said uniformed members of Syria’s military aimed AK-47s at the mosque as people left after prayers and fired, causing the main air-conditioning unit to catch on fire.
With the sound of bullets whizzing through the neighborhood, witnesses reported that worshippers ran in panic to take cover in alleyways.
The two deaths in Hama were said to be young people shot down near the al-Tawhid and al-Sahaba mosques in northern residential neighborhoods.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the shootings took place as anti-government rallies in Hama and the city of Homs attracted tens of thousands of protesters.
Sweeping Arrests Made
It was the first mass demonstration in Hama since government troops launched a 10-day military assault on the city in early August, killing more than 100 people.
Syrian authorities have barred most independent media from covering the five-month-old protests in the country, making it difficult to verify events on the ground in the unrest.
But it is clear that Assad’s forces have intensified assaults on towns and cities across the country since the start of the Muslim fasting month to try to subdue mounting dissent against the ruling family.
Earlier, Syrian government troops were out in force, carrying out sweeping arrests of suspected protesters ahead of rallies that were called after today’s Friday prayers.
Rights activists say security forces shot dead a man and a woman shortly after dawn. They say one man was killed while trying to flee when security forces began arresting residents in the Damascus suburb of Saqba. The woman was killed during a security force operation at dawn today in the town of Kahn Sheikhun in the northwestern Idlib province.
Witnesses report hearing intense gunfire as dozens of tanks, troop carriers and Assad loyalists in civilian cars assaulted Kahn Sheikhun.
The violence comes after rights activists said at least 16 people were killed on Thursday in crackdown against dissent in other parts of Syria. Rights activists say they have confirmed that than 2,150 people have been killed in government crackdowns since protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March.
Those deaths include more than 1,700 civilians and some 400 members of security forces — many of whom are said to have been killed by Assad loyalists after they defected in order to protect civilians from the bloody crackdowns.
Friday has become a focal point of anti-regime protests in Syria, with hundreds of thousands of people pouring into the streets of Syrian cities each week to demonstrate.
The hours immediately after the conclusion of Friday prayers are particularly sensitive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A Facebook group called “The Syrian Revolution 2011” — a driving force behind Syria’s protests — said in a message posted on the Internet: “We only kneel before God.”
The group also is urging Syrians to join mass demonstrations throughout Ramadan, which started August 1, saying “every day in Ramadan is a Friday.”
U.S. Says Syria Better Off Without Assad
The latest violence came despite mounting international pressure on Assad’s regime to end its crackdown.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Washington today that Assad’s regime has become illegitimate. “President Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead and it is clear that Syria would be better off without him,” she said.
Clinton said one of the most effective ways to put pressure on Assad to end the crackdown would be for countries to stop purchasing Syrian oil and natural gas, a message that seemed intended for China and India who have continued to buy Syrian energy resources throughout the five months of protests in Syria.
She also urged countries supplying weapons to Syria to halt shipments — a message that seemed intended for Russia, its biggest supplier of weapons.
Officials in Washington say U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing for the first time to explicitly call for Assad to step down from power.
compiled from agency reports