Evening Anti-Regime Demos in Syria after 18 Dead in Day Protests
Syrian security forces opened fire Friday killing 18 people as thousands of anti-regime protesters poured onto streets of flashpoint cities after the Ramadan weekly prayers, rights activists said.
Undaunted, protesters also took to the streets after the Tarawih evening prayers in several suburbs of the capital Damascus and in Homs, Deir Ezzor, Latakia, Hasakeh, Daraa and many other regions.
Friday's operations come in defiance of warnings by the United States that Syria will face further sanctions if it does not stop killing protesters.
A man was shot dead in an early morning assault on the Damascus suburb of Saqba while a woman died when troops opened fire during a dawn raid in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
As thousands poured out of mosques after the noon prayers in the central city of Hama, security forces opened fire, killing a civilian and wounding three others, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Hama has been the scene of some of the bloodiest clashes since an uprising began mid-March against the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad. At least 100 people died when troops backed by tanks stormed the city on July 31, the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
State television streamed images showing Assi Square -- nerve center of protests in Hama -- as completely empty, saying: "Life is back to normal in Assi Square, there are no armed forces."
Another man died in sniper fire Friday near a mosque in Homs, another central city which has witnessed relentless bloodletting in past weeks.
And a man was killed in Deir Ezzor, rights activists at the scene told Agence France Presse.
Security forces also opened fired against demonstrators in two neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus -- Harasta and Douma -- where they killed two people and wounded five others, the Observatory reported.
Meanwhile, Syrian television said "two security agents were shot dead by armed men in Douma."
Security forces encircled the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun in a bid to prevent demonstrations after Friday prayers.
"They came in large numbers into Qaboun, shutting down the neighborhood and encircling the mosques," the Observatory said.
Protests were also staged in the coastal city of Latakia while in the eastern Mediterranean city of Banias troops circled mosques in a bid to prevent protests taking place, the Observatory said.
The protests are in response to a call by Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind the anti-regime protests, for "no-kneeling" mass demonstrations after the weekly prayers.
"We only kneel before God," the group said on its Facebook page, also urging Syrians to pursue anti-regime rallies throughout Ramadan, which started August 1, saying "every day in Ramadan is a Friday."
At least 16 people were killed in a crackdown on dissent in other hubs of protest across Syria on Thursday, according to rights activists.
The Observatory said a total of 2,150 people have been confirmed dead since the protests began, including 1,744 civilians and 406 members of the security forces.
As the West grapples with ways to pressure Damascus into ending the bloodletting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China, Russia and India on Thursday to weigh in against Assad's regime.
In an interview with CBS News, she suggested that China and India impose energy sanctions on Syria, and urged Russia to stop selling arms to Damascus, which has bought weapons from Moscow for decades.
"What we really need to do to put the pressure on Assad is to sanction the oil and gas industry. And we want to see Europe take more steps in that direction," Clinton said.
"And we want China to take steps with us. We want to see India, because India and China have large energy investments inside of Syria. We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime."
Clinton's comments came as U.S. officials said Washington has decided to call explicitly for Assad to step down.
Ignoring the growing international outrage, Assad pledged this week a relentless battle against "terrorist groups" Damascus says are fomenting a popular uprising across Syria.
Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford personally warned Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Thursday that Syria will face further sanctions if it does not stop killing protesters.
Ford, who returned to Damascus last week after consultations in Washington, also urged Syria's top diplomat to ensure journalists can cover the protests.
As part of the crackdown, Abdul Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights since 2004 and a key source of information for international media, was arrested on Thursday, activists said.
France condemned Rihawi's arrest.
"The arrest of Mr. Abdul Karim Rihawi ... constitutes another unacceptable decision by the authorities in Damascus and goes directly against the expectations of the international community," the foreign ministry said in Paris on Friday.
"Mr. Abdul Karim Rihawi must be released immediately," the statement said.