Syrian Tank 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Syrian forces shot dead 20 protesters on Friday despite a pledge by Syrian President Bashar Assad that a crackdown was over, activists said as thousands marched across Syria, spurred on by US and European calls for him to step down.
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Most of the violence was in the southern province of Deraa where the uprising against Assad erupted in March, triggering a harsh response in which UN investigators say Syrian forces may have committed crimes against humanity.
"Bye-bye Bashar; See you in The Hague," chanted protesters in the central city of Homs, waving their shoes in a gesture of contempt. "We want revenge against Maher and Bashar," shouted others, referring to the Syria leader and his powerful brother.
"The people want the execution of the president," shouted a crowd in
northern Idlib province, reflecting deepening antipathy to the
45-year-old Assad. Some carried banners with slogans proclaiming "Signs
Local activist Abdallah Aba Zaid said 18 people were killed in Deraa
province, including eight in the town of Ghabaghab, five in Hirak, four
in Inkhil and one in Nawa. Dozens of people were wounded, he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were also killed in the Bab Amro district of Homs.
Assad, from the minority Alawite sect in the mostly Sunni Muslim nation,
told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week that military and
police operations had stopped. But activists say his forces are still
shooting at protesters.
"Maybe Bashar Assad does not regard police as security forces," said a
witness in Hama, where security forces fired machineguns late on
Thursday to prevent a night-time protest.
Syrian state television said the deaths in Ghabaghab were caused by
gunmen who attacked a police post, killing a policeman and a civilian
and wounding two others. It said two members of the security forces and
one gunman were killed in a clash in Harasta, near Damascus.
Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making
it difficult to verify reports of violence in which the United Nations
says 2,000 civilians have been killed. Authorities blame terrorists and
extremists for the bloodshed and say 500 soldiers and police have been
killed.'Snipers are on the rooftops'
Internet footage of Friday's protests suggested that although widespread
they were smaller than at their peak in July, before Assad sent tanks
and troops into several cities.
A doctor in Zabadani, 30 km (20 miles) northeast of Damascus, said army
vehicles were in the town and snipers were on rooftops to prevent crowds
Protesters from the Sunni majority resent the power and wealth amassed
by some Alawites, who adhere to an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. They want
Assad to quit, the dismantling of the security apparatus and the
introduction of sweeping reforms.
The violent repression prompted coordinated calls from the United States
and European Union on Thursday for Assad to step down and Washington
imposed sweeping new sanctions on Syria, which borders Israel, Lebanon
and Iraq and is an ally of Iran.
On Friday, European Union states agreed to expand the number of Syrian
officials and institutions targeted by EU sanctions and laid out plans
for a possible oil embargo. Syria exports over a third of its 385,000
barrels per day output to Europe.
The shape of a post-Assad Syria is unclear, although the disparate
opposition, persecuted for decades, has gained a fresh sense of purpose
as popular disaffection has spread.
US President Barack Obama froze Syrian state assets in the United
States, banned US citizens from operating or investing in Syria and
prohibited US imports of Syrian oil products.
"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President
Bashar Assad is standing in their way," Obama said. "His calls for
dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing
and slaughtering his own people."
Adding to international pressure, UN investigators said Assad's forces
had committed violations that may amount to crimes against humanity. The
United Nations plans to send a team to Syria on Saturday to assess the
The United States, Britain and European allies say they will draft a UN Security Council sanctions resolution on Syria.
But Russia, which has resisted Western calls for UN sanctions, said on
Friday it also opposed calls for Assad to step down and believed he
needs time to implement reforms.
"We do not support such calls and believe that it is necessary now to
give President Assad's regime time to realize all the reform processes
that have been announced," Interfax news agency quoted a foreign
ministry source as saying.