|Military dragnets are said to be in place in Damascus and two other areas amid continued anti-Assad demonstrations
Syrian security forces have sprayed bullets into a crowd of protesters in Deir al-Zour, killing two demonstrators and bringing the number of dead to nine in the second day of operations by Bashar al-Assad's government, according to rights activists.
Other sources and news agencies estimated that the death toll would increase as details surfaced.
Reports said military dragnets took place on Wednesday and Thursday in the capital, Damascus, the northern Idlib province, and a politically sensitive area near the Turkish border in the northwest.
Al Jazeera has not been able to verify independently the reports of violence.
Activists also reported strikes in several towns and cities, including Homs and the Damascus suburb of Douma, the Associated Press reported.
The strikes are likely to raise pressure on the government, which already is struggling to pay civil servants and keep the fragile economy alive.
The protesters have been calling for reforms and an end to the longstanding political status quo.
Against this backdrop of continued unrest, the French president has called for more sanctions against the Syrian government.
"The attitude of the Syrian president is unacceptable ... we must strengthen sanctions against the regime which is applying the most brutal methods against its population," Nicolas Sarkozy said in a television interview on Thursday.
France has led efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on anti-government protests, according to the Reuters news agency.
In recent weeks, an increasing number of Western leaders have said Assad has lost his legitimacy to govern.
Assad and his military power structure have used violence and detentions in an attempt to crush the four-month-old uprising. Activists claim the government has killed at least 1,600 Syrians since mid-March.
The government disputes the toll and blames the bloodshed on a foreign conspiracy and "armed gangs".
At least seven people were killed late on Wednesday during army raids in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib, Mustafa Osso, a Syria-based rights activist, told the Associated Press news agency.
The province has been the scene of military operations for weeks, apparently aimed at preventing residents from fleeing to neighbouring Turkey.
Refugee camps in Turkey now house thousands of Syrians. Observers and activists have said this ongoing exodus has deeply humiliated the Assad government.
At least two demonstrator was reportedly shot dead on Thursday in Deir al-Zour, the capital of a governorate of the same name, when security forces fired from their vehicles into a pro-democracy protest.
"A crowd of 1,500 had shown up for the usual noon demonstration despite the intense heat. Thousands more have descended on the square after the killings, and there are now around 10,000 people there," a witness, who declined to give his name for fear of arrest, told Reuters.
Deir al-Zour, adjacent to Iraq and the centre of Syria's oil production, is among the poorest regions in the country of 20 million people.
Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights, told AP that security forces broke up a peaceful anti-government protest in Damascus on Wednesday evening, beating some protesters and arresting Syrian intellectuals, actors and artists.
Film personalities held
Security forces arrested at least 30 people during a pro-democracy protest in Damascus on Wednesday, rights organisations said.
They include Nabil Maleh and Mohammad Malas, prominent film directors known for works chronicling malaise under Assad family rule, and May Skaf, an actress.
They were among a group of artists who issued a declaration this week denouncing state violence against protesters and demanding accountability for the killings of civilians and the release of thousands of political prisoners held without trial.
Qurabi said the arrests were proof that the regime is escalating its crackdown against anyone who dares protest and that the promises of reform were merely "ink on paper".
The protests in Syria typically reach critical mass on Fridays, which has become the day for demonstrations during the Arab Spring.
In recent weeks, however, Syrians have held large protests nearly every day, followed by nightly sit-ins, suggesting that the anti-Assad movement is gaining momentum.