Damascus, April 1 : Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters today north of Damascus and in the south of the country, killing at least seven people, a witness and a human rights activist told AFP.
The shootings came as thousands of Syrians staged demonstrations after Friday prayers.At least six protesters fell in Douma, 15 kilometres north of the capital when police opened fire after protesters emerging from a mosque pelted them with stones, the witness told AFP by telephone.
The death toll could be more than 10, said the witness, but he only provided AFP four full names for those killed: Ibrahim Mubayed, Ahmad Rajab, Fuad Ballah and Mohammed Alaya, as well as someone from the Khuli family and another from the Issa family.
A Syrian official was unable to confirm deaths in Douma.At least three people were killed in the southern village of Sanamen near the flashpoint city of Daraa, when
security forces opened fire on protesters, a human rights activist said.
But he could identify only one victim, Yasser al-Shumari, in his 20s, who was shot dead as he entered Sanamen with a group of protesters from two nearby villages,
Ankhal and Jassem.
There was no independent confirmation of the report. In Daraa itself, witnesses told AFP that thousands of faithful gathered outside the courthouse after leaving a
mosque."Death rather than humiliation," and "National Unity," they shouted.
Chants were also directed against President Bashar al-Assad, whose highly anticipated speech to parliament on Wednesday failed to match the demands of pro-reform protests that erupted more than two weeks ago.
Protests also took place for the first time in the mainly Kurdish populated northeast, a Kurdish rights activist said.
"Hundreds of people marched peacefully through the streets after Friday prayers in Qamishli and Amuda chanting 'We want freedom' and 'God, Syria and freedom'," Radif Mustafa told AFP.
The "Friday of Martyrs" protests were also held from the coastal city of Latakia to Homs and Darriya, near Damascus, where people chanted: "My beloved Syria, give me my freedom."
The official SANA news agency confirmed demonstrations took place without incident in Daraa and Latakia, where protesters paid tribute to martyrs and called
for speedier reforms.
In Damascus, hundreds of protesters locked themselves up inside Al-Rifai mosque in the city centre chanting "Freedom, freedom," as security forces tried to break in, a
demonstrator said, and a group of pro-regime loyalists gathered in the square opposite.
In Banias, 280 kilometres northwest of Damascus,about 1,000 people demonstrated without incident. A petition signed by 18 Muslim clerics said the sheikhs "back the
people's demands for reforms, liberty, the lifting of emergency law and the right to protest."
A little farther north, in the confessionally divided city of Latakia, around 200 people staged a protest without incident in the suburb of Sleibi.On Wednesday police intervened in Sleibi, killing four or five people, a rights activist said. The pro-Islamist London-based Syrian Committee for Human Rights put the toll at 25.
It was the third week in succession for protests following Friday Muslim prayers. Assad, facing domestic pressure unprecedented in his 11-year rule, failed to lift almost 50 years of emergency rule in his first address to the nation since the protests demanding greater freedoms broke out on March 15.
Instead, he said there was a "conspiracy" targeting unity in Syria.Assad blamed Syria's "enemies" for taking advantage of the needs of the people to incite division in the country ruled by emergency law since the Baath party seized power in 1963.
The Syrian Revolution 2011, a wildly popular yet anonymous Facebook group that has emerged as a motor of the protests, had called for rallies at all mosques after Friday prayers until demands for "freedom" are met.
Activists estimate that more than 160 people have been killed so far in clashes with security forces, mainly in Daraa, a tribal area on the Jordanian border, and in Latakia.
Officials put the death toll at about 30 and have accuse Muslim extremists and "armed gangs" of pushing peaceful rallies into violence with the aim of inciting sectarian unrest. (AFP)