Protesters in southern Syria 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)
Syrian troops killed six people Wednesday in an attack on a mosque in the
southern city of Deraa, and later opened fire on hundreds of youths marching
from nearby villages in solidarity, witnesses said.
“They [the youths]
came into Deraa from the north entrance. Bodies fell in the streets. We do not
know how many died,” one witness said. “You didn’t know where the bullets were
coming from. No one could carry away any of the fallen,” another resident
Protesters march in Syria for fifth straight day
Parents were seen crying in the streets during the evening, and
loudspeakers from mosques around Deraa called on those whose relatives had died
to go to clinics to collect the bodies.
“Peaceful, peaceful,” the
loudspeakers echoed – a cry taken up by protesters across the Arab world to
emphasize the peaceful nature of their demonstrations against entrenched and
undemocratic rulers and corruption and their demands for freedom.
witness saw 20 army trucks carrying soldiers heading to the city.
on the Jordanian border, has long been a stronghold of the Baath Party, which
recruits cadres from the region. But in recent days it has become a focus of
unprecedented protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
shooting on Wednesday began just after midnight, when security forces attacked
protesters in the vicinity of the Omari mosque in the city’s old quarter, the
focal point of the Deraa protests, residents said.
Electricity was cut
off and telephone services were severed.
Cries of “Allahu Akbar” erupted
in one quarter after another as the shooting at the mosque began.
footage showed what purported to be the street in front of the mosque before the
attack, with the sound of gunfire audible and a person inside the mosque grounds
yelling: “Brother, don’t shoot. This country is big enough for me and
Those killed included Ali Ghassab al-Mahamid, a doctor from a
prominent Deraa family, who went to the Omari mosque to help victims of the
“Syrian authorities think they can kill nonviolent democratic
protesters with impunity,” exiled Syrian rights defender Haitham al-Manna told
BBC television from Paris.
An official Syrian statement said: “Outside
parties are transmitting lies about the situation in Deraa,” blaming what it
described as armed gangs for the violence.
The statement said Doctor
Mahamid, killed in an ambulance that had arrived at the scene to rescue the
injured, was “assaulted by an armed gang.”
It said the armed gang
“stocked weapons and ammunition in the mosque and kidnapped children and used
them as human shields.”
State television showed guns, grenades and
ammunition it said were found in the mosque, but activists said the protest was
peaceful and there had been no weapons.
An official statement said later
that Assad had sacked Deraa governor Faisal Kalthoum. But a main demand of the
protesters was an end to what they term “repression” by the secret police,
headed in Deraa province by a cousin of Assad.
The mosque attack brought
to 10 the number of civilians killed by Syrian forces in six days of
demonstrations for political freedom and an end to corruption in the country of
France, which has been increasingly vocal in condemning the
violence in Syria, urged Damascus to carry out political reforms without delay
and respect its commitment to human rights. It called for an investigation into
the recent deaths in Deraa, the release of those detained in demonstrations and
an end to the use of “excessive force.”
In Damascus, authorities released
six women protesters on Wednesday who took part in a silent demonstration last
week supporting the release of political prisoners, lawyers said.
has lifted some bans on private enterprise but ignored calls to end emergency
law, curb a pervasive security apparatus, develop rule of law and freedom of
expression, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of
dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.