AMMAN - Syrian forces killed 15 people when they fired on thousands of protesters trying to enter the southern city of Deraa, the heart of a six week uprising against President Bashar Assad, a medical source said on Friday.
The bloodshed occurred as demonstrations again erupted across the country, defying heavy military deployments, mass arrests and a ruthless crackdown on the biggest popular challenge to 48 years of authoritarian Baath Party rule.
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The medical source in Tafas, 12 km (8 miles) north-west of Deraa, said the local hospital received 15 bullet-riddled bodies, and 38 wounded villagers after the clash near Deraa.
Assad's violent repression has brought growing condemnation from Western countries which for several years had sought to engage Damascus and loosen its close alliance with Iran and move towards a peace deal with Israel.
Sources in Washington said on Friday the United States would tighten
sanctions against Syria, targeting five individuals and entities for
human rights violations. The UN Human Rights Council also adopted a
resolution criticizing Syria.
A Syrian rights group said this week at least 500 civilians had been
killed since the unrest broke out in Deraa on March 18. Authorities
dispute the death toll, saying 78 security forces and 70 civilians died
in violence they blame on armed groups.
State news agency SANA said on Friday an "armed terrorist group" killed
four soldiers and kidnapped two in Deraa, where Assad sent tanks and
troops to crush resistance on Monday.
But a witness in Deraa said Syrian forces fired live rounds at thousands of villagers who descended on the besieged city.
"They shot at people at the western gate of Deraa in the Yadoda area,
almost three km (two miles) from the centre of the city," he said.
The latest violence broke out after Friday prayers as thousands of
people hit the streets across the country demanding Assad's removal and
pledging support for the residents of Deraa.
"The people want the overthrow of the regime!" demonstrators chanted in many protests, witnesses said.
More demonstrations flared in the central cities of Homs and Hama,
Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in eastern Syria and
Harasta, a Damascus suburb.
The old Midan district of Damascus saw the biggest protest in the
capital so far, with 10,000 people marching until they were dispersed by
security forces firing tear gas, rights campaigners said.
Wissam Tarif, director of the Insan human rights group, said two people
were killed in protests in Latakia. The killings could not be
immediately confirmed. Foreign journalists have mostly been expelled
A rights campaigner in Deraa said on Friday makeshift morgues in the
city contained the bodies of 83 people he said had been killed since the
army stormed the city, close to Syria's southern border with Jordan, on