Death toll rises to 12 in new anti-gov't protests in Syria

12:11, July 16, 2011      

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At least 12 people, including police officers, were killed by gunmen and dozens were injured nationwide, as thousands of anti-government protestors streamed into the streets Friday across Syrian cities, the official SANA news agency reported.

An armed group opened fire in al-Qaboun neighborhood of the capital Damascus, killing eight people including two officers, said Sana, adding that another civilian was shot dead by other armed group in the Douma area at the outskirts of Damascus.

The report also said another civilian was killed in the northern province of Idleb and one police officer was shot down by gunmen in al-Khalidiah area near the central province of Homs.

Sana said "armed terrorist groups" had barricaded many streets in several cities with piles of blazing tyres and stones and attacked public and private properties.

However, the Doha-based al-Jazeera TV quoted the Local Coordination Committee, a group of activists that track the protests in Syria, reporting that Syrian forces allegedly killed as many as 16 protesters nationwide on Friday, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country, calling for the downfall of the leadership in the largest ever protests since mid- March.

Al-Jazeera said one of the largest rallies was held in the central province of Hama, where some 200,000 people were said to be demonstrating in defiance of the security crackdown.

Hama has a history of rebellion against the Syrian authorities and was a stronghold of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which staged a bloody rebellion in 1982. It is now witnessing the largest turnout since the eruption of protests in mid-March, and also under a self-declared general strike two weeks ago.

The nearly four-month national upheaval has sparked the need for dialogue to find an outlet to the escalating crisis. President al-Assad said in his latest speech that the dialogue is the title of the current phase, however, the opposition activists, most of whom live outside Syria, said it's too late for any effort to bridge the gap between the government and the protesters.

Activists said the security forces have killed more than 1,600 people across Syria since the beginning of the unrest in mid-March, while the authorities dispute the tolls, putting the blame for the unrest on armed gangs that aim to foment a sectarian strife in the country.

Source: Xinhua
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