Demos across Syria after foiled Damascus rally; 4 killed

Syrian security forces intervened against a rally in Daraa, south of Damascus, on Friday, the state news agency said as a human rights activist alleged four people were killed and hundreds wounded.

Updated: Mar 19, 2011, 00:32 AM IST

Damascus: Syrian security forces
intervened against a rally in Daraa, south of Damascus, on Friday,
the state news agency said as a human rights activist alleged
four people were killed and hundreds wounded.

Other demonstrations were reported in Damascus, Homs,
north of the capital and the coastal town of Banias.

"The security forces fired live bullets at the
protesters. Four people were killed," said the activist in
Daraa contacted by a news agency from Nicosia, identifying them as Akram
al-Jawabra, Hussam Abdelwali Ayash, Ayham al-Harri and a
member of the Abu Aoun family.

"Hundreds of protesters were wounded and many were
snatched by the security force from the hospital where they
had been taken and removed to an unknown location," he added.

Plain-clothes Syrian police broke up a protest after
Friday prayers at the main mosque in central Damascus,
dragging away at least two activists, a news reporters witnessed.

"There is no God but God," a crowd inside the men`s
section of the Omayyed Mosque chanted in crescendo after
Friday prayers at noon.

Dozens of security agents who had gathered outside
the mosque during the prayers, pulled out batons as soon as
the chants broke out and detained at least two people, beating
one one who resisted and kicking him in the nose.

At least 200 people immediately rallied in a square
outside the mosque, chanting support for President Bashar
al-Assad and waving Syrian flags. Some carried portraits of
his late father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad.

Terrified families could be seen fleeing the
square, with many children in tears.

It was unclear what sparked the chaos, but a
Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011 had called for
demonstrations after Friday prayers during a "Day of Dignity."

A video posted on the group`s Facebook page showed
a crowd of men inside the mosque chanting "there is no God but
God," while a few calls of "freedom" could be heard before
being drowned out.

Another video showed one man being dragged out of
the mosque by other men who had attended the prayers.

The Facebook group also posted a video of a rally
outside a landmark mosque in the city of Homs, 150 kilometres
(about 100 miles) north of Damascus, where dozens of
protesters marched, chanting "God, Syria, freedom."

Another video showed hundreds of protesters, mainly
men, chanting in a city the Facebook group identified as
Daraa, some 100 kilometres south of the capital.

The page said clashes had occurred between
protesters and security forces in Daraa while video footage
showed fire trucks turning their hoses on a procession to
disperse demonstrators.

Two other videos, allegedly from the coastal city
of Banias, showed crowds, one with at least 100 people,
chanting for freedom.

Syria`s state news agency SANA said violence and
"acts of sabotage" had broken out in Daraa, prompting security
forces to intervene.

"Infiltrators took advantage of a gathering of
citizens near the Omari Mosque in Daraa... to provoke chaos
through acts of violence which resulted in damage to private
and public property," SANA said.

"The infiltrators also set cars and shops on fire,
which obliged security forces to intervene in order to protect
citizens and property," it added. "They were also attacked by
the infiltrators before the latter dispersed."

SANA said another "gathering" had taken place in
Banias, with no clashes.

A news agency could not independently verify the authenticity
of the videos.

Small impromptu protests have erupted for three
days in a row in the Old City of Damascus, demanding political
reforms in the country amid a wave of popular protests across
the Middle East.

Syrian authorities on Thursday charged 32 activists
with attacking the reputation of the state, a day after a
rally outside the interior ministry, the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights said.

The protesters, including high-profile rights
activist Suhair Atassi, were detained at Wednesday`s rally
organised by the relatives of political prisoners to petition
for their release.

Human Rights Watch has called for the release of
all detained demonstrators, and independently confirmed that
18 people had been taken into custody.

Participants in Wednesday`s rally said 34 activists
had been detained by authorities in Syria, which is still
under a 1963 emergency law that bans demonstrations.

PTI