Syrian security forces opened fire on anti- government protesters in several cities and arrested demonstrators on "Homeland Protector Friday," a day on which activists had called on the Syrian army to stand with the people, according to activist accounts.
A Damascus-based human rights lawyer told Babylon & Beyond that eight people had been killed by security forces: three during demonstrations in Qatana, which is about 20 miles from Damascus; one in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border; and four in the town of town of Dael near the besieged southern town of Deraa.
The human rights lawyer said security forces had used live ammunition at demonstrations on Friday in the Sunni stronghold city of Homs in central Syria, in the area of Marqeb in the coastal city of Baniyas, and in Zabadani.
An eyewitness in Homs told The Times there was a heavy security presence there and that security forces in civilian clothes had fired at demonstrators. More than 2,000 people were protesting, he said.
"The regime must go -- there is no other way out," the witness said.
The killings in Dael reportedly occurred hours before the rallies erupted. Security forces opened fire on men standing on rooftops and chanting "God is Great."
Activist accounts said that the Syrian army had imposed a curfew in Dael and that pro-regime anthems were being blasted on the loudspeakers of the town’s mosques.
Demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar Assad broke out across Syria after the weekly Muslim prayer, including in areas near the country's second-largest city, Aleppo; in Idleb in the country's northwest; in the central city of Hama; and in Deir Zur in the northeast, where security forces also fired live ammunition at demonstrators, according to activist accounts on social media sites on the Internet.
In the mainly Kurdish city of Qamishli in the country's northwest, demonstrators carried banners saying "the army and the people are one hand" and "homeland protector Friday" while chanting "the people want to topple the regime," according to video footage posted on the Internet.
As in previous weeks, residents of several of Damascus’ suburbs took to the streets in anti-government rallies, including in Barze and in the district of Medan, where thousands of people demonstrated and security forces arrested at least 20 protesters, according to activist accounts. Arrests were also reported to be underway in areas near Aleppo after security forces broke up protests there.
Syrian activists had called on the Syrian army to unite with the people in Friday's protests and show that it's a "patriotic army" that protects the people.
"It is the day asking the soldiers to join the people," said a statement from Syrian activists. "During today's demonstrations chants will be heard that the army and the people are one. The protesters demand to their army that they should follow the lead of the Tunisian and Egyptian armies and defend the people against a group of mercenaries fighting for the regime."
Aside from the Syrian regime, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah apparently also attracted anger from protesters on Friday. In the town of Albu Kamal near the Iraqi border, demonstrators burned pictures of him. On Wednesday, Nasrallah gave a speech in which he called for Syrians to stand by the Damascus regime, activist reports said.
Demonstrators started preparing for Friday's protests on Thursday night, according to video footage on the Internet. In one video, filmed in Qabon on Thursday night, a crowd of demonstrators were seen marching down what appeared to be an alley waving Syrian flags and calling for the downfall of the regime.
The Assad regime has come under international sanctions. On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on the Syrian ruler to lead transition to democracy or step down.
--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Demonstrators in the mainly Kurdish city of Qamishli in Syria's northwest hold a banner saying "army and people are one" in a protest on Friday. Credit: YouTube