Syrian forces kill 10 after Friday prayers, as tens of thousands protest Assad

Reuters , Friday 12 Aug 2011

Activists report the death of 10 Syrian protesters in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus suburbs and Idlib province


Syrian forces shot dead 10 protesters Friday, activists said, as tens of thousands demanded the fall of President Bashar al-Assad, chanting "we will kneel only to God" despite a military crackdown that has triggered sanctions and condemnation abroad.

Defiant protest marches unfolded across the country including the cities of Hama and Deir al-Zor, both of which have been stormed in tank offensives launched by Assad during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Local Coordination Committees activists' group said deaths included two protesters killed in the commercial hub of Aleppo, three in suburbs of the capital Damascus and two in the northern province of Idlib on the Turkish border.

Residents said two people were also killed in Hama, just days after the army completed a week-long assault on the city which became a symbol of defiance to Assad's rule after huge crowds gathered weekly to demand his overthrow.

"Go, Bashar!" protesters chanted in rallies held in the coastal cities of Latakia and Baniyas, as well as across the southern province of Deraa where the uprising against 41 years of Assad family domination first flared nearly five months ago.

In Deir al-Zor, forces fired live ammunition at protesters coming out of a main mosque, killing one person according to the local coordination committees..
A witness said a fire broke out in the mosque after security forces shot at it. "The whole neighborhood is echoing with the sound of bullets. Worshippers are running to take cover in alleyways," he said by telephone.

Another resident said: "Assad wants to finish off the uprising before international pressure becomes too much for him. But people have gone out of almost every major mosque in Deir al-Zor, meters away from tanks that occupy every main square and roundabout."
Syrian state television said one member of the security forces was killed by gunmen in Douma, just outside Damascus.

Syrian authorities have barred most independent media, making it difficult to verify events on the ground in the unrest, among a series of popular revolts against repressive power elites across the Arab world this year.

Assad's forces have intensified assaults on towns and cities across the country since the start of Ramadan nearly two weeks ago to try to subdue mounting dissent against the ruling family, despite threats of new U.S. sanctions and calls from Turkey and fellow Arab states to end attacks on civilians.

Activists said at least 19 people were killed by Syrian forces in raids near the Lebanon border and in the country's Sunni Muslim tribal heartland Thursday. Assad's family belongs to the minority Alawite sect that runs Syria.
More than 1,700 civilians in all have been killed in the military crackdown on protests against Assad, activists say.

Syria says 500 soldiers and police have died in the upheaval, which it blames on armed gangs and terrorists.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sanctions against Syria's vital oil and gas industry were needed to put pressure on Assad. She called on Europe and China, main foreign players in Syria's energy sector along with Russia, to do more in imposing sanctions on Syria.

Clinton, in a CBS interview, also said an organized, united opposition was needed in Syria.

Syria's oil industry, with which the Assad has close links, generates most of the state's hardcurrency from crude output of 380,000 barrels per day.

The global campaign group Avaaz urged European nations on Friday to impose immediate restrictions on purchases of Syrian oil to "dry up" funding of Assad's security services. It said over 150,000 Avaaz members had signed a petition to that effect.

But there is little prospect of Western states putting teeth into the sanctions on Assad by targeting Syria's oil because of vested commercial interests against doing so.
Asked why the United States had not called on Assad to step down, Clinton said Washington had been "very clear" in its statements about Assad's loss of legitimacy, and wanted other nations to add their voices.

Wednesday Washington imposed sanctions on Syria's largest bank and its biggest mobile telephone company, controlled by Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf. The next day, U.S.Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford said more sanctions would follow if the Syrian authorities did not halt the violence.

 In addition to the Friday protests, nightly Ramadan prayers, or "tarawih," which follow the breaking of the fast, have given more Syrians a focus for daily protest marches.
Regional powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all applied pressure on Assad to stop the violence.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned Assad not to leave reforms until it is too late in a letter delivered to the Syrian president earlier this week, Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency reported Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke Thursday and agreed Syrians' demands for a transition to democracy must be met, the White House said.

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