Syrian forces shot dead at least 11 people on Friday during mass protests against the Bashar Assad regime.
With the uprising in its fourth month and diplomatic pressure mounting, Damascus continues to blame the unrest on a combination of domestic armed gangs and foreign conspirators linked to the West and Israel.
Gunfire echos in Homs as Syria cracks down
Syria: Assad loyalists kill 10 in attacks in Homs
Five civilians were killed overnight in Homs, 165 km.north of Damascus, when tanks were deployed to halt protests in the besieged city, residents said.
Six more people were later shot dead in protests in the Damascus suburb of Mleeha, in Homs and in the Idlib area in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the National Organization for Human Rights said.
Radwan Ziadeh, a US-based activist heading the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, e-mailed journalists video footage purportedly filmed on Friday, of a 12- year-old boy shot dead by police fire during protests in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus.
Ziadeh said a pro-regime television station tried to force the boy’s father to blame armed gangs for the shooting, but the man refused, insisting he knows the name of the policeman who shot his son.
Also on Saturday, a train carrying 400 passengers derailed and its driver was killed when “saboteur groups” dismantled a section of a northern railway near Homs, Syrian officials said.
Homs Governor Hassan Abdelal said the train was carrying troops and civilians, and that “destiny” helped to prevent further casualties.
“The saboteurs came by motorcycles.
The train derailed near a high voltage power line and the driver was burned to death. The saboteurs are bent on increasing operations and they must be confronted,” Abdelal told Syria’s state television.
The television station showed images of a burning and overturned train and a dismantled section of the track.
The same day, two explosions were heard overnight from inside the Syrian Army War College in Homs. The sound of heavy gunfire was heard and ambulances were seen heading to the compound in the old Al-Waer district, two residents told Reuters by telephone.
“Smoke rose from inside the premises.
The injured were taken to the military hospital. It looked like an operation of some sort,” said one of the residents, who declined to be named.
Activists reported protests after Friday prayers in several places – the Medan district of Damascus, Latakia on the coast, Deraa in the south and Deir al-Zor in the east – as well as in Homs, the latest focus of the armed crackdown.
In the first crackdown on Kurds since the uprising began, dozens of people were wounded when police and militia used batons and tear gas against protesters in the mainly Kurdish northeastern city of Qamishli, witnesses said.
The protesters demanded political freedoms and an end to state-endorsed discrimination against Syria’s 1 million Kurds. They also voiced solidarity with the protesters elsewhere.
As the uprising drags on, Assad’s diplomatic standing is slumping to a new low.
This weekend, two special human rights advisers to UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon called for an “independent, thorough and objective investigation” of events in Syria.
“The scale and gravity of the violations indicate a serious possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed and continue to be committed in Syria,” Francis Deng, adviser on prevention of genocide, and Edward Luck, adviser on the responsibility to protect, said on Friday.
Assistant US Secretary of State Jeff Feltman told US-based Al-Hurra television that talk of a sectarian crisis was being instigated by Assad to sow fear among the population.
“They are trying to raise the specter of the ghost of a civil war, but it’s clear from the majority of demonstrations that everyone is protesting without concern about the dangers confronting them for the sake of a better future for Syria,” Feltman said.
The state-run SANA news agency reported Assad media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told a conference of expatriates in Damascus that Syria “is being targeted with plots that seek to cause further division in the Arab world, noting that these plots aim to distract from Israeli occupation of Arab lands and the Palestinian issue, particularly since Arab media today rarely mentions the occupation.
“She also voiced confidence that Syria and Egypt will emerge stronger and more determined than ever, contrary to the claims of Israeli reports,” SANA reported.
Conference participants “rejected any act that undermines stability and security, and affirmed their support for national dialogue and reform, adding that the current crisis in Syria is a foreign conspiracy that serves its enemies, particularly Israel.”Reuters contributed to this report.