At least 20 protesters were shot dead by Syrian security forces across the country on Friday as tens of thousands demanded the overthrow of President Bashar Al Assad, chanting “we will kneel only to God.”
Defiant protest marches unfolded across the country despite a military crackdown that has triggered sanctions and condemnation abroad.
These included protests in the cities of Hama and Deir Al Zor, both of which have been stormed in tank offensives launched by Assad during the holy month of Ramadan.
“Thousands of people marched in Hama despite a higher presence of security forces. We left from the mosque to the Al Manakh Square and they shot at us. People were wounded and several others were arrested,” an activist told AFP.
The Local Coordination Committees activists said among the deaths were six in the Damascus suburbs of Saqba and Douma, two protesters killed in the commercial hub of Aleppo, and two in the northern province of Idlib on the Turkish border.
Residents said two people were also killed in Hama, just days after the army completed a week-long assault on the city which became a symbol of defiance to Assad’s rule after huge crowds gathered weekly to demand his overthrow.
Hama has been the scene of some of the bloodiest clashes since an uprising began mid-March against the authoritarian rule of President 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 centre of protests in Hama – as completely empty, saying: “Life is back to normal in Assi Square, there are no armed forces.”
One other man died in sniper fire Friday near a mosque in Homs, another central city which has witnessed relentless blood letting in past weeks.
And a man was killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, an activist at the scene told AFP.
Security forces encircled the Damascus neighborhood of Qabun in a bid to prevent demonstrations there, the Observatory said.
Protests were also staged in the coastal city of Lattakia while in the 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 mass “no-kneeling” demonstrations after weekly prayers.
“We only kneel before God,” the group said, also urging Syrians to continued rallying throughout Ramadan, which started August 1, saying “every day in Ramadan is a Friday.”
The group posted a video of the protest in Midan, Damascus, where demonstrators carried signs that read: “Bashar’s reforms: 3,000 dead, including women and children, 20,000 arrested, thousands displaced or missing.”
Security forces on Friday arrested poet and writer Abdel Rahman Ammar, 68, in place of his son, an activist wanted by Syrian authorities.
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.