|Activists chose "patience and determination" as the theme of Friday's protests across Syria [Al Jazeera]
Syrian security forces have opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters in eastern and southern towns, killing at least eight people in an attempt to quell an uprising raging for the past five months.
The protests came on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time many protesters hoped would serve as a breaking point for President Bashar al-Assad's government. Instead, the government's crackdown has intensified dramatically.
An activist with the opposition April 17 Movement in Douma, northeast of Damascus, told Al Jazeera that security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas on a large protest of 6,000 to 7,000 people who marched through the streets.
"Worshippers from about six or seven mosques came together and marched to the square of the Grand Mosque in Douma," said the activist, who calls himself Mohammed al-Ali. "After about an hour people were heading home when secret police and shabiha [thugs] arrived and opened fire."
A resident of Deir al-Zor said security forces opened fire to disperse scores of protesters, killing two of them. He named them as 26-year-old Marii Fathi and 22-year-old Oday Bahloul.
"There was shooting in Kanama Street near Jandol cafe and a white security van took their bodies," he said, adding that another youth, Ibrahim Mohammad al-Dukhoul, was taken to hospital with serious gunshot wounds.
In Nawa, a town in the southern Hauran Plain that has seen regular protests, residents and activists said another protester was killed after forces loyal to Assad shot at demonstrators coming out of a mosque.
'Stormed by tanks'
Human rights groups say Assad's forces have killed more than 2,000 people since the uprising against his rule erupted in mid-March, touched off by the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.
Activists and residents reported protests in cities and towns, many of which have been stormed by tanks, stretching from Deir al-Zour province in the east to Deraa in the south to the northwest province of Idlib.
They said demonstrations also cropped up in large cities such as Hama and Homs along the main highway leading to Turkey, and in districts of the capital Damascus.
"Muammar Gaddafi is gone, it is your turn Bashar!" shouted protesters in the town of Hirak northeast of Deraa, buoyed by the apparent overthrow of the Libyan leader by rebels this week, according to a witness who spoke by phone to the reuters news agency.
Pro-democracy activists chose "patience and determination" as the theme of Friday's protests across Syria.
Activists earlier said security forces killed eight people across Syria overnight, mostly as a result of attacks on street demonstrations.
The crackdown has led to broad condemnation and sanctions. Assad has ignored international calls for him to step down, insisting that "religious extremists" and "thugs" are driving the violence, not "true reform-seekers".
Assad has exploited fears of chaos in Syria, with the regime portraying him as the only man who can guarantee peace in a country with a mix of religious groups.
The opposition, however, says the protest movement is free of sectarian overtones and is simply demanding freedom and democracy.
Since Ramadan began on August 1, tanks have entered the cities of Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, Deir al-Zourand Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
Attack on cartoonist
Meanwhile, the US condemned what it called a "targeted, brutal attack" on Syria's most popular political cartoonist.
Ali Ferzat was attacked after he left his studio early on Thursday and was beaten by masked gunmen who broke his hands and dumped him on a road outside the Damascus airport.
|Ferzat's Brother Asaad told Al Jazeera that his brother "was savagely beaten" [Al Jazeera]
Ferzat's brother Asaad told Al Jazeera that his brother was kidnapped at 5am by five gunmen from outside his home and taken to the airport road.
"He was savagely beaten, they broke his fingers and told him not to satirise Syria's leaders," Asaad said.
Ferzat, 60, who is also a longtime human rights advocate, earned international recognition and the respect of many Arabs with stinging caricatures that infuriated leaders including Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and, particularly in recent months, Syria's Assad family.
He drew cartoons about the uprising and posted the illustrations on his private website, providing
comic relief to many Syrians who were unable to follow his work in local newspapers because of a ban on his drawings.
This week, he published a cartoon showing Assad with a packed suitcase, frantically hitching a ride with a fleeing Gaddafi. Another drawing showed dictators walking a long red carpet that leads them, in the end, to a dustbin.