AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
DAMASCUS: Syrian regime forces killed eight civilians today, as massive anti-regime demonstrations swept the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, a monitoring group reported. For the second Friday in a row, “tens of thousands of people marched in Aleppo city and province,” calling for regime change, said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.
“They are the most important protests in Aleppo” since the uprising against Assad began in March last year, he added, specifying that 12 separate demonstrations had taken place in Syria’s second city.
Syrian troops fired on them with live rounds and tear gas, killing a protester and wounding dozens, the Britain-based Observatory said.
In northwestern Idlib province, tens of thousands also marched in the rebel-held localities of Maaret al-Numan, Saraqe, Kafrnoubol, Hass and Sarge, Abdel Rahman said. Clashes reportedly pitted regime forces against army deserters in the Idlib village of Maarshurin.
And in the province of Daraa, birthplace of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, troops also fired on demonstrators, several of whom were wounded in Inkhel as they emerged from mosques after weekly Friday prayers, the Observatory said.
A civilian was killed in an ambush in the southern province.
Several protesters were wounded by gunfire in the town of Houla, in central Homs province, where demonstrations also took place in the city itself despite shelling by the army, the Observatory said.
Democracy activists had called for demonstrations today under the slogan: “Our next rendezvous, Damascus,” reflecting a desire to intensify their activities in the Syrian capital, despite the heavy presence there of security agents.
Protests were reported at dawn in at least five residential neighbourhoods in Damascus in support of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up largely of dissidents from the regular army, and calling for Assad’s downfall.
“Al-Tadamon neighbourhood will not bend,” read one placard, while in Tabbale, the protesters called on “the Sheikhs of Damascus to distance themselves from the regime,” according to videos posted by activists on the Internet.
Loyalist forces fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators marching in the Midane district, according to the Observatory, which also said a child was killed by sniper fire in the suburb of Irbin.
In the central province of Hama, four people were killed early today by regime forces, including three teenagers, as they guarded their farm in the village of Chizar, the Observatory said citing activists.
A fifth person reportedly died in the Sabounie district of Hama city.
The SANA state news agency, for its part, said six people were killed when a bomb placed by a “terrorist group” exploded on their doorstep in the village of Rabla, in Homs province, employing a term it uses to refer to armed rebels.
UN envoy to return
GENEVA: Kofi Annan, the special UN-Arab League envoy to violence-torn Syria, is finalising plans to return to Damascus, his spokesman said on Friday. As indicated last week, Annan will travel to Syria “soon” as he continues efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, said Ahmad Fawzi. “We have almost finalised the date,” Fawzi said, without giving further details for security reasons. Annan went to Damascus on March 10-11 to meet President Bashar al-Assad who later agreed a six-point peace plan. UN military observers are now in Syria monitoring a cessation of hostilities that began on April 12 but has barely held with government and opposition groups continuing attacks. Fawzi said one of Annan’s deputies, Jean-Marie Guehenno, returned from Syria on Thursday after a six-day visit. During his visit Guehenno, a former UN peacekeeping chief, met representatives from all parties but did not hold talks with the president, the spokesman said.