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Middle East
Protesters killed in Syria shooting
At least nine deaths reported in coastal city of Jableh as funerals are held for victims of government crackdown.
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2011 23:03
Deadly clashes between protesters and security forces have continued for a third straight day [Al Jazeera]

A rights group says at least nine people have been killed in Jableh, a coastal city in Syria, where witnesses told Al Jazeera that security forces opened fire on protesters.

They said by phone from the city that some of the security men were in uniform, others in plain clothes.

Thousands of security forces accompanied by "other armed thugs" besieged Jableh and indiscriminately opened fire at civilians, Abu Ahmed, a Jableh resident, told Al Jazeera.

 

Citizens were "all unarmed and peaceful," and were "surprised" to see heavily armed forces, he said.

Another activist said the security forces ringed Jableh and started to open fire after a visit by a new regional governor who met local dignitaries in the mosque.

The injured from the earlier attack by security forces on residents continue to be unable to move from the Hamwi mosque, according to two activists who have spoken to those inside.

Snipers have shot at anyone attempting to leave the mosque where up to 18 injured people are trapped with little or no medical attention.

Rights groups have said that security forces have raided the house of doctor Zakraiya al-Akkad, a physician in
Jableh, after he spoke with Al Jazeera about the killings in his hometown.

There were also reports of clashes going on elsewhere in Syria. In the town of Nawa, near Daraa, four people were injured when an unidentified gunman opened fired on security forces.

Security forces also detained dozens of opposition activists in Jableh, as authorities turned to pinpoint raids after days of bloodshed brought international condemnation and defections from President Bashar Assad's government.

The strategy, described by a rights activist, appeared aimed at rattling the opposition's leadership and showing that the state's ability to conduct arrest sweeps has not changed despite abolishing nearly 50-year-old emergency laws last week.

'Shoot-to-kill'

The rising level of violence, with more than 300 people reported killed since the uprising against Assad began five weeks ago, brought calls from the watchdog group Human Rights Watch for a UN inquiry.

Friday was the deadliest day to date with 118 killed.

"After Friday's carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence,'' Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said.

"Faced with the Syrian authorities shoot-to-kill strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters."

Security forces have targeted mourners
participating in funeral rites for the deceased

But Sunday's tactics also suggest a government effort to head off the round of protest marches.

The police raids, which began late Saturday, concentrated around the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs, a hotbed of demonstrations against Assad's authoritarian rule, Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, said.

"These people are not being arrested in a legal way. They are being kidnapped," Qurabi said, claiming the plainclothes security agents did not have formal arrest warrants.

Qurabi did not have full figures for those detained, but said at least 20 people were arrested in Homs.

A resident in the Damascus suburb of Douma said at least five people were taken into custody and authorities cut Internet and telephone lines.

Later, security forces moved into the coastal town of Jableh, claiming they were searching for weapons, said Qurabi. He cited witnesses saying that police and army units opened fire from rooftops even though there were no apparent threats and no protests in progress.

"I am terrified ... People in the street are getting shot,'' a resident of Jableh told The Associated Press by phone.

'Pre-planned operation'

"Jad", a Jableh resident, told Al Jazeera by phone that he and other injured citizens were stuck in a mosque, unable to leave due to gunfire outside.

"There are two municipal areas [in the city]. All the areas were cordoned and the security personnel were positioned in a very strategic manner as if this was a pre-planned operation."

Human rights groups estimate that at least 300 people have been killed by secrity forces since mid March

In the mosque is one killed and several injured from gunshots in the chest and lower limbs, Jad said.

The accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Security forces have even targeted mourners participating in funeral rites for the deceased.

Assad has blamed most of the unrest on a "foreign conspiracy'' and armed thugs trying to sow sectarian strife.

The state-run news agency SANA said 286 police officers have been wounded since the uprising began. It did not give further details.

But possible cracks could be emerging from within.

Two members stepped down from the provincial council in the southern region of Daraa, which has the highest death toll in the country. The resignations came a day after two lawmakers and a religious leader from Daraa also turned their backs on Assad in disgust over the killings.

Such internal rifts have added resonance since nearly all opposition figures have been either jailed or exiled during the 40-year dynasty of the Assad family.

'Tyrant Bashar'

Protesters are demanding political reform and for an end to Assad's 11-year rule. The deaths come despite the lifting of decades-old emergency laws last week and human rights activists insist the state of emergency was only lifted on paper.


In the wake of the killings, about 3,000 residents of nearby Baniyas held a sit-in protest blocking the main road which links the port city of Latakia to Damascus, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Earlier this month, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called Assad to say he was "greatly disturbed'' by the reports of violence. Many Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, have condemned Syria's harsh tactics to quell dissident.

Britain's Foreign Office advised against all travel to Syria because of the violence. It added that "in light of the deteriorating security situation, British nationals in Syria who have no pressing need to remain
should leave by commercial means."

In Jordan, 150 Syrians living in the kingdom protested outside their embassy in Amman. "Out, out with the tyrant Bashar Assad,'' shouted the group, which also burned a portrait of Assad.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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