Syria security forces attack protesters across the country

At least 27 people are reported killed, according to activists, many in the suburbs of Damascus and areas near the capital. Protesters say security forces are cracking down hard there.

July 16, 2011|By Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network, Syrian anti-government protesters hang a banner in Arabic that reads "Thank you Al Jazeera and Shaam News Network," apparently during a rally in the central city of Hama.
In this citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network, Syrian…

Reporting from Beirut — Security forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad met antigovernment protests throughout the country with violence Friday in defiance of increased Western pressure on the regime to radically reform.

At least 27 people were reported killed, activists said, many of them in the suburbs of Damascus and areas around the capital. Protesters say security forces are cracking down hard there so the demonstrations don't spread to the heart of the capital.

"The demonstration started out peacefully, and then after a while they started firing tear gas and live bullets," said an eyewitness in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh. "The security stood by for a while and suddenly attacked us. It's always like that. The repression is always strong here since we're close to the capital."

A witness in the Roukn Eddine district of Damascus reported that two people died there and dozens were injured when security forces opened fire. Barrages of gunfire could be heard continuing into Friday evening, the witness said.

There were conflicting versions of events in the central city of Homs, where activist accounts said that at least 15 people were injured when security forces fired on demonstrators. Amateur video purportedly filmed Friday in the ?Inshaat? district showed a couple of men running from a barrage of what sounded like gunfire while plumes of black smoke rose in the air behind them.

Protesters in Homs carried a Syrian flag from the time before Assad's Baath Party took power, a provocative gesture challenging its authority.

A Syrian satellite television channel said a soldier was killed and eight law enforcement officers wounded when gunmen fired at them in the city's Khalidiyeh neighborhood.

Friday's anti-regime rallies came a week after U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Ford and French envoy Eric Chevallier visited the restive city of Hama, gestures that enraged Syrian authorities.

On Monday, a pro-regime crowd attacked the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus, smashing windows and shaking up embassy staff members.

U.S. officials have stopped short of calling on Assad to step down. But at a 32-nation diplomatic conference Friday in Istanbul, Turkey, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated the Obama administration view that the Syrian president had lost legitimacy.

"I think we all share the same opinion, that what we are seeing from the Assad regime in its barrage of words, false promises and accusations is not being translated into any path forward for the Syrian people," she said.

The four-month uprising against Assad and his Baath Party's decades-long rule shows no sign of abating. Video posted on the Internet depicted large pro-democracy protests in cities across the country after Friday prayers.

Many protesters said they thought the government would not be able to stop the uprising.

"Every week more and more people come out," the eyewitness in Barzeh said. "Every week you hear of new towns where there are protests."

The Syrian activist group Local Coordination Committees said some of the deaths in Friday's protests were in Homs and in the northwestern city of Idlib, where it said security forces and pro-regime militiamen fired into a crowd of protesters.

Friday's protests took place as a call for the release of prisoners of conscience. Activists say thousands of people have been arrested in an intensification of raids on homes of dissidents.

"For freedom for the detainees, for the dignity of free men!" read a banner posted on the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, which has become an organizing point for the uprising.

In the southwestern city of Dara, where the antigovernment protests started, tens of thousands of demonstrators came out, chanting slogans calling for the downfall of the Assad regime and freedom for prisoners.

One witness said the army acted as a buffer between security forces and the protesters but the security forces still opened fire, killing and wounding many people.

Video purportedly made Friday in the town of Dael in southwestern Syria showed throngs of protesters running for cover from what sounded like a barrage of gunfire.

For a couple of seconds they hide behind corners and walls before returning to the street shouting "Gunfire!" and "God is great!" They jump up and down waving their arms right in front of what appears to be squads of security forces in green uniforms.

Sandels is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in London contributed to this report.

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