|A man holds up a map of Syria with the words ‘Homs you are in our hearts’ during a protest in the city [AFP]|
Activists in Syria have said that at least 12 people were on killed on Tuesday by security forces, as neighbouring Turkey held its first formal talks with Syrian opposition leaders.
Five civilians were shot dead on Tuesday and dozens of others wounded when security forces opened fire in the Daraa town of Herak, according to the the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an activist network.
The LCC said that demonstrators had taken to the streets in Herak to protest against the arrest of a local cleric, Sheikh Wajih Kaddah.
They said that five people were also killed in Homs, while two more protesters were reported dead in suburbs of the capital Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a wide network of sources on the ground, reported that a sniper killed an intelligence officer in Idlib province, bordering Turkey, as armed resistance to the security forces spread.
Tuesday’s raids led some parents to keep their children home from school in areas near the capital out of fear for their safety, as armoured vehicles took up positions and soldiers made sweeping arrests, Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Observatory said.
The UN says more than 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in mid-March.
Syria’s opposition has been trying to join forces under the umbrella of a Syrian National Council to form a united front against Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades.
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he had met members of the council in Ankara and advised the group to work towards democratic change in Syria “in a peaceful manner”.
The meeting was the first formal contact with the opposition group.
“Unfortunately, despite all our urgings the killings are continuing,” Davutoglu said. “It is natural for us to meet with all parties.”
Davutoglu also condemned the killing of Syrian human rights activist Ziad al-Obeidi during his meeting, a Turkish foreign ministry official said.
The Syrian National Council was formed in Istanbul in September. No country has recognised it so far as a legal representative of the country. Damascus has threatened tough measures against any country that does.
Syria has banned foreign reporters and restricted local coverage, making it difficult to independently confirm witness accounts of events in the country.