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Eighteen dead after Syria protests

Desk Report: Hundreds of Syrians, some of them with gunshot wounds, streamed into neighboring Lebanon on Saturday in search of a refuge from the increasing violence in their homeland, a Lebanese security official said. The arrivals at the border began shortly after Syrian security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters across the country, killing 20 people, including two children aged 12 and 13, Syrian activists said. The Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks the anti-government protests in Syria, said most of the deaths occurred in the Barzeh neighborhood of the capital Damascus, as well as the suburb of al-Kaswa.

Several others died when security forces opened fire in the central city of Homs, sending residents fleeing into neighboring Lebanon. Syrians on Saturday mourned 18 people shot dead by security forces in anti-government protests as Turkey built a huge tent city to shelter thousands of refugees fleeing a crackdown which the European Union described as “shocking”.

Tens of thousands of Syrians surged onto the streets on Friday in response to a call by the Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind three months of protests against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Five people died in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh, six in the town of Kiswah, south of the capital, and seven in and around the central city of Homs, activists told AFP. “Security forces tried to break up a rally calling for the fall of the regime with tear gas before opening fire,” killing five people and wounding 25, an activist in Barzeh said. Activists said dozens of people in Barzeh were arrested in house-to-house searches as a curfew was imposed on the neighbourhood. In Kiswah, an activist told AFP that security forces opened fire almost immediately after the protest started.

“Demonstrators left the mosque after Friday prayers and marched for a few minutes until security forces opened fire to disperse them, killing five people and wounding six,” said Mohammad Enad Suleiman. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a sixth death in Kiswah and said that security forces also gunned down three people in Homs and four people in the countryside outside.

The London-based watchdog said protests also broke out late Friday in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, where earlier in the day 30,000 had demonstrated against the regime, as well as in other parts of Syria. It said around 100 people were arrested, more than 70 in Mareh near Syria’s second-largest city Aleppo. Protests in Aleppo have been muted since the pro-democracy protests erupted in mid-March. But the Syrian Revolution 2011 called on demonstrators to “get ready for a volcano” in the city next Thursday, in a message posted on its main Facebook page.

State television blamed the civilian deaths in Barzeh on “armed men,” saying they also wounded several security force members, including an officer. It added that a police officer was also shot dead in the Damascus suburb of Kadam, and the official SANA news agency reported that “several members of the security forces were hit by gunfire in Kiswah.”

The Syrian Observatory said that 1,332 civilians had now been killed in the government’s crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s 11-year rule. It said that 341 security force personnel had also lost their lives. Friday’s protests were held under the slogan “Fall of legitimacy,” with a Facebook page message reading: “Bashar is no longer my president and his government no longer represents me.”

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