'At least 8 killed as anti-gov't protests sweep Syria'

Rights group says security forces using live fire to disperse demonstrators in Damascus; protesters burn Nasrallah photos.

Syrian masses protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian masses protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A total of eight protesters were killed Friday as anti-government demonstrations spread throughout the country. Three protesters were shot dead as live fire was used to disperse hundreds of protesters in the Qatana suburb east of the capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Earlier on Friday, Syrian security forces killed four protesters in the southern town of Daal as demonstrations demanding the removal of President Bashar Assad swept the area, residents and activists said.
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An additional protester was killed in an incident near the Lebanon border. In the city of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, protesters burned pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose speech in Beirut this week in support of Assad infuriated demonstrators, activists and a tribal leader in the province told Reuters by phone, adding security forces had withdrawn from the streets of Albu Kamal.
Foreign correspondents are barred from Syria and witness reports are hard to verify independently.
Nasrallah said on Wednesday most Syrians still backed President Bashar Assad and the removal of his regime on the back of mass unrest would serve US and Israeli interests.
The Syrian and Iranian-backed ally said he believed Assad was serious about making reforms, in response to pro-democracy protests that have gripped the country for nine weeks and which have presented the gravest challenge to Assad's 11-year rule.
"All indications and information until now still affirm that the majority of the Syrian people support this regime and have faith in President Bashar Assad and are betting on his steps towards reforms," Nasrallah said in his first comments on Syria since protests broke out in March.
"I personally believe ... based on discussions and directly listening to President Bashar Assad that he believes in reforms and is serious and committed ... and is ready to take very big steps towards reforms," he told a crowd in the southern Lebanese town of Nabi Sheet by video link, on the 11th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon.
Syrian protesters, inspired by popular uprisings in other parts of the Arab world, initially took to the streets to call for greater freedoms and an end to corruption.
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Assad made some gestures towards reforms, including lifting a hated decades-old emergency law, while also sending in tanks to crush revolts in flashpoints across the country.
Met with a violent crackdown by Syrian security forces -- human rights group Sawasiah said at least 1,100 civilians have been killed -- demonstrators have demanded Assad's overthrow.
Nasrallah, who had praised popular uprisings that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, said the fall of the Syrian government would serve American and Israeli interests since it would be replaced by a regime "ready to sign any peace, meaning surrender, with Israel".
Human rights activists and witnesses say Syrian security forces, the army and irregular Assad loyalists, have opened fire on peaceful protesters. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed groups backed by Islamists and outside powers.