Syrian security forces opened fire Tuesday, killing seven people as they tried to disperse thousands of protesters rallying against the regime on the first day of the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, activists told the Associated Press.
The activists said security forces fired at protesters in the southern province of Deraa, in the central city of Homs and in the Damascus suburbs following morning prayers marking Eid al-Fitr.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network estimated nine protesters were killed across the country by Monday noon local time. An activist in Deraa confirmed to AP the six deaths in Deraa province, saying four were killed in the village of al-Harra and two others in Inkhil.
The LCC said the deaths in al-Harra included a 13-year-old boy.
In a statement posted on their website they said security forces had “launched an offensive on the town of Saramein … in Rastan and Qara, which was raided for the first time … they have launched an arrest campaign in Qudsaya … [and] the same activities are taking place in Daraa and its surrounding towns, as well as Lattakia, Jableh and Qamishli.”
Pious Muslims traditionally visit cemeteries to pray for the dead on the first day of the Eid, and children get new clothes, shoes, haircuts and toys for the holiday.
On Tuesday, many in Syria visited graves of loved ones who have been killed in the five-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Human rights groups say Assad’s forces have killed more than 2,000 civilians since the uprising erupted in March, touched off by the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.
The government crackdown escalated dramatically at the start of Ramadan, a time of introspection and piety characterized by a dawn-to-dusk fast. Muslims typically gather in mosques during the month for special nightly prayers after breaking the fast, and the Assad government used deadly force to prevent such large gatherings from turning into more anti-government protests.
The LCC activist network said Syrians were keeping their Eid celebrations to a minimum this year in solidarity with the Syrians who have died and the families of detainees.
“There will be no happiness while the martyrs’ blood is still warm,” it said in a statement Tuesday.
The Syrian government has placed severe restrictions on the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify witness accounts.