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Middle East
Deaths reported in fresh Syria violence
Assad loyalists allegedly open fire in northern port city of Baniyas amid continued anti-government protests.
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2011 03:04
Warning: This package contains images that may disturb or offend some viewers [Al Jazeera]

Men loyal to Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, are reported to have opened fire on a group of people in the northern port city of Baniyas, as widespread protests against the country's leadership continue.

Casualties were unconfirmed following the shooting on Sunday but state television said a security official was killed while the Associated Press news agency, quoting witnesses, reported the deaths of four civilians.

Members of the group that came under attack were armed with sticks and guarding the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque when they were confronted by the Assad loyalists, known as shabbiha, who fired at them with automatic rifles from speeding cars, the Reuters news agency reported.

But the official SANA news agency reported quoting a government source that an "armed group" ambushed an army patrol in Baniyas, killing one soldier and wounding others.

Sunday's clashes came as days of protests and violence in Daraa, the southern flash-point city, forced many schools and government offices to close.

"Daraa is 80 per cent paralysed today, the children were sent back home from school and most of the government buildings are not operational," a local witness told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

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The city came to a standstill after Friday's crackdown on thousands of protesters by security forces left at least 27 people dead.

Continued protests were also reported in Homs and in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

Tens of thousands of people, meanwhile, attended the funerals of the victims of Friday's violence.

"Hundreds of people took to the streets [in Douma] after a funeral was held there," Al Jazeera's Cal Perry reported from Damascus on Sunday.

"They were calling for an end to the government. This was the first time people had called for an end en masse."

He said graphic video had been running throughout the day on state television purporting to show dead or wounded security officers.

Once-unthinkable mass protests challenging al-Assad's authoritarian rule have spread across Syria despite his attempts to defuse resentment by making reform gestures.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, has told al-Assad he is "greatly disturbed" by the reports of violence.

"There is now a momentum gathering in Syria, a momentum that the Assad regime is desperately trying to dissipate, using a combination of carrots and sticks," James Denselow a security analyst and Syria expert, told Al Jazeera.

"The problem is, while with the carrots [have been] getting rid of a moribund and impotent parliament and replacing it and offering citizenship to tens of thousands of Kurds and reaching out to the more traditional Sunni population of the centre, the traditional Syrian response has been sticks."

"When the Syrians say they are going to reform and they are going to open up things and this is the time, you have to question the intent and the timing. This is a regime that has been in power for decades ... we really have to wonder whether they are just looking to dissipate the protests and the momentum of these protests."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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