Deaths reported in Syrian protests

Gunfire and deaths reported amid more protests in Syria but identities of perpetrators and victims remains unclear.

    Boys hold a banner in the port city of Baniyas. Protests took place in several cities across Syria on Sunday [Reuters]

    At least five people are reported dead amid fresh protests near the restive Syrian city of Homs, but the identities of those killed remains unclear.

    Government sources told Al Jazeera that two policemen were killed in the town of Talbiseh on Sunday while other reports claimed protesters had been killed.

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    Our correspondent Cal Perry, in Damascus, reported that more than a dozen people had been wounded in what officials said was a "co-ordinated attack from both rooftop sniper fire and fire from the ground".

    He said it was unclear who was behind the firing. Officials blamed "foreign elements" while protesters said it was security forces dressed in civilian clothes.

    "The situation is incredibly chaotic", he said.

    The official news agency SANA reported that one policeman was killed in Talbiseh when "a group of armed criminals opened fire" on security personnel.

    It said a military unit "returned fire" and killed three members of the armed groups and wounded 15.

    Online activists told Al Jazeera that two civilians had been killed and many injured in Talbiseh. They said security forces opened fire as mourners gathered for a funeral for a person killed in protests a day earlier. Many people were arrested, they said.

    They also said five protesters, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed when security forces and "government thugs" broke up a rally in Homs, using live ammunition.

    Officials said "unknown assailants" were shooting from vehicles at people on the streets in Homs.

    Al Jazeera could not independently verify the differing accounts.

    Protesters beaten

    Earlier on Sunday, about 300 anti-government protesters took to the streets in the southern city of Suweida. Witnesses said they were attacked and badly beaten by government supporters.

    Mazen Darwish, an activist in Damascus, said two people had been injured and taken to hospital.

    "Protesters were sitting in the square, chanting slogans for political freedom," he told Al Jazeera. "After a few minutes, people in civilian clothes attacked them."

    There were also reports of demonstrations in Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city, in the coastal city of Baniyas, and in Homs.

    Suhair Atassi, a rights activist, said on Twitter that 400-500 people were protesting in Aleppo, chanting slogans for national unity.

    In the town of Hirak, outside the southern city of Daraa, thousands of mourners at the funeral of a soldier reportedly chanted slogans calling on the president to step down, Reuters news agency reported.

    A relative of the 20-year-old soldier said his family was told he was accidentally electrocuted at his military unit
    near Damascus but mourners believed he had been tortured by security forces.

    Sunday's demonstration came a day after Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, said the country's decades-long emergency laws would be lifted within a week and also promised a number of other reforms.

    Activists had called for protests across Syria on Sunday, which is Syria's Independence Day, commemorating the departure of the last French soldiers 65 years ago and Syria's proclamation of independence.

    The Damascus Declaration, an opposition umbrella group, called for peaceful protests in all Syrian cities and abroad to "bolster Syria's popular uprising and ensure its continuity".

    'Blood of martyrs'

    In a statement posted on its website, the Damascus Declaration said the government was responsible for killing and wounding hundreds of Syrians who have been calling for their legitimate rights in the past month.

    "The regime alone stands fully responsible for the blood of martyrs and all that will happen next in the country,'' the statement said.

    Other activists also called for protests through social network sites.

    Assad promised on Saturday to end the emergency law, which had been a key demand of the protests which began one month ago. But the president coupled his concession with a stern warning that further unrest will be considered sabotage.

    An activist posted this picture online, saying
    it showed a protest in Baniyas on Sunday

    George Jabbour, a former member of the Syrian parliament who was an adviser to Assad's father, the former president Hafez al-Assad, said he thought the proposed reforms should be enough to quell anti-government demonstrations.

    "It was greeted with, I suppose, satisfaction, by most people, maybe all. I'm glad he [said in his speech] that the lifting of emergency law will strengthen rather than weaken the security of Syria," he told Al Jazeera.

    But our correspondent said what is more likely to keep protesters from the streets is gangs of armed pro-Assad protesters.

    "The security forces by and large have been replaced by pro-Assad individuals who carry various instruments of destruction - pipes, sticks, at times AK47s," he said. 

    "On Friday, when I drove through a section of Damascus, there were a variety of individuals, two dozens perhaps, standing in the streets with pipes, and it was clear they were doing that to send a message - if you're going to protest, you're taking the risk to run into these forces and being beaten up."

    Relatives' release urged

    Within hours of Assad's speech on Saturday, about 2,000 protesters staged a sit-in in the suburb of Douma, demanding the release of relatives arrested on Friday during a major day of nationwide protests, activists said.

    The official SANA news agency also reported around 2,000 people demonstrated in the southern protest hub of Daraa late on Saturday, chanting slogans for "freedom" and the lifting of emergency laws.

    The laws - in force since 1963 - restricts public gatherings and movement, authorises the interrogation of any individual and the monitoring of private communications and imposes media censorship.

    Assad has said armed gangs and a "foreign conspiracy" were behind the unrest, not true reform-seekers.

    SANA said on Sunday that security forces seized a large quantity of weapons hidden in a lorry coming from Iraq. It reported that the weapons were confiscated at the Tanaf crossing on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

    It said the shipment included machine-guns, automatic rifles, night vision goggles and grenade launchers.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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