Syria: 'Renewed shooting' in Deraa and other cities

Syrian family arrives in Lebanon after fleeing across the border from Tell Kalakh. 28 April 2011 Syrian families have been crossing the border into Lebanon following shooting in the town of Tell Kalakh

Further shooting has been reported in several parts of Syria, including the southern city of Deraa which has been a focal point of unrest.

In neighbouring Lebanon, officials said hundreds of Syrians have fled across the border after shooting in one town.

Human rights activists in Syria say at least 500 people have died in six weeks of protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Protesters are calling for Friday to be a "Day of Rage" across the country.

They want to step up protests in support of Deraa, where a military crackdown since Monday has reportedly left more than 40 people dead.

Deraa is where the revolt against President Assad began six weeks ago. Defiance has continued there despite military intervention.

On Thursday, witnesses said that water, communications and power in Deraa had been cut off.

Analysis

The resignation of more than 200 members of the ruling Baath Party from Houran in the south and Baniyas in the north-west does not sound the death-knell for President Assad's regime.

But, coming after the resignation of parliamentary deputies from Deraa and the city's state-appointed Imam, or Friday preacher, these are significant straws in the wind in a country where membership of the all-pervading party is a prerequisite for almost any activity.

It means that Deraa and its surrounding Houran district are effectively slipping out of the regime's political grip, forcing it to fall back on naked force to reimpose control.

It also means that the momentum of alienation and repression is continuing to gather pace after six weeks, around 500 deaths and many thousands of people wounded or detained.

Protesters have called for Friday to be a Day of Rage throughout the country. They are clearly hoping for a record turnout, though some opposition Facebook postings expect the regime to try to minimise the bloodshed to present a better image as Europe and the West consider sanctions.

Other reports said tanks rolled into Latakia, north of Damascus, on Wednesday night and security forces fired on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The mayor of the Lebanese border town of al-Buqaya told Reuters that more than 1,000 people - mostly women and children - had crossed over from the town of Tell Kalakh.

"They are leaving their houses and their men. The women have come with their children," said Mahmood Khazaal.

"We heard shooting since 6.15 (1515 GMT Wednesday) and that is when they started fleeing."

He said Lebanese security forces were helping Syrian families to cross over.

Foreign journalists have been banned from Syria and reports from inside the country are difficult to verify.

Earlier, 200 members of Syria's ruling Baath party resigned after issuing an angry public statement denouncing the repression.

The resignations - mostly from around Deraa - follow those of 30 Baath officials from the coastal city of Baniyas, north-west of Damascus.

The deaths of protesters have brought strong international condemnation, but Syrian officials remain defiant.

"The authorities are determined to restore security, stability and peace to the citizens," Information Minister Adnan Mahmud told AFP news agency.

"In Deraa, the army intervened at the request of the population to restore security," he added.

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