Activists in Syria have reported fresh deaths and spate of additional arrests amid continuing unrest in the country.
At least five people have been reported killed in raids across the country on Saturday.
“Thousands” of troops reportedly raided the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital, including Zamalka and Saqba, in search of dissidents, arresting dozens of people.
The Local Coordination Committes (LCC) said arrests were also carried out in the coastal city of Jableh and in Homs province.
However, in the center of Homs city, a demonstration of thousands went undisturbed by security forces.
For the first time, the protesters were criticising their fellow countrymen in Aleppo, a commercial hub that has remained pro Assad.
“Shame on Aleppo and its people” and “Boycott the goods from Aleppo” banners held by protesters read.
Meanwhile, clashes between the Syrian army and gunmen believed to be defectors left one person dead in the northwestern province of Idlib, near Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“A man was killed this morning in the village of Maar Horma in the Idlib region during clashes between the Syrian army and armed men, who were probably deserters,” the UK-based group said.
Syrian security forces killed at least 19 civilians on Friday, most of them in the city of Homs, the Observatory said, after the death of Libyan ex-leader Muammar Gaddafi galvanised mass protests.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad blames “armed gangs” for the violence that has swept Syria for the past seven months, but activists say most of the deaths are caused by security forces putting down non-violent protests.
However, some elements of the opposition have resorted to armed resistance, resulting in the deaths of soldiers and security personnel.
More than 3,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the crackdown on dissent, according to the United Nations.
Most foreign media has been barred from entering Syria, making it difficult to verify conflicting reports.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the “killings and massacre” in Syria in an interview with American network CNN.
“We condemn killings and massacre in Syria, whether it is security forces being killed or people and the opposition,” Ahmadinejad said, according to excerpts of the interview reported in Farsi by the website of Iran’s state broadcaster on Saturday.
It was Iran’s strongest criticism yet of the deadly crackdown by its key ally.
“We have a clear formula for Syria and that is for all sides to sit together and reach an understanding… therefore these killings cannot solve any problems and in the long term it will lead to a deadlock,” Ahmadinejad added.
“When people are being killed, it paves the way for more quarrels… There should be no foreign interference [in Syria],” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
“America’s stance will not help. There should be no foreign intervention. All should help for understanding to prevail in Syria,” Ahmadinejad said.
Washington has repeatedly called for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on the Syrian leadership and was strongly critical of vetoes by China and Russia earlier this month of even a watered-down draft threatening
Iran has been concerned about the possible collapse of its principal Middle East ally and had previously avoided speaking out against the violence.
It has accused its traditional foes Israel and the United States of stirring up trouble in Syria. Since the protests erupted, Tehran has maintained that the issue should be resolved “through dialogue and not violence”.