Syria: Deadly protests erupt against Bashar al-Assad

Protesters flee shooting in Damascus as security forces use tear gas and live ammunition - The BBC cannot verify the authenticity of this video

At least 15 people are said to have died in renewed protests across Syria against President Bashar al-Assad.

Activists said security forces fired tear gas and bullets after Friday prayers in Damascus and elsewhere, but Syrian state TV blamed unidentified gunmen for some deaths.

Meanwhile, the EU has expanded sanctions against the Assad government.

It added three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and four Syrians to a list of more than 30 people targeted.

More than 1,300 people have been killed and thousands more detained since a crackdown on anti-government protests began in March, activists say.

'No longer my president'

As in previous weeks, activists had appealed to Syrians to join demonstrations after Friday prayers.

An appeal on Facebook listed a slogan for this week as: "Bashar is no longer my president and his government no longer represents me."

The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria told the BBC five people had been killed and several injured when security forces had opened fire on protesters leaving a mosque in Kiswah, south of Damascus.

Analysis

As on every Friday for the last 100 days, Syrians across the country took to the streets in large numbers after prayers, despite measures taken by the authorities. Tear gas and gunfire are reported to have been used in Midan in central Damascus and in Kiswah, south of the capital.

In the town of Salamia near Homs, where the Ismaili minority predominates, an unprecedented number of protesters marched.

While the government seeks a national dialogue with the opposition, on the ground the situation is still dominated by violence and arrests.

Independent opposition figures are holding the first open meeting on Monday to discuss how to move Syria to a civil and democratic country, but they are determined that there will be no dialogue with authorities until violence is ended.

Snipers shot dead at least three protesters in the capital's Barzeh district, witnesses said. But Syrian state TV blamed the deaths on unidentified gunmen who had fired on civilians and security force members.

Deaths were also reported in Homs and Qusair.

Syria has prevented most foreign journalists from entering the country and reports of unrest are hard to verify.

The Local Coordination Committees, which monitor the Syrian protest movement, had earlier reported military trucks in Damascus suburbs, and said roads in the centre of Homs had been blocked.

Thousands of people were reported to have turned out in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, the central cities of Homs and Hama, Deraa in the south, and Qamishli and Deir al-Zour in the east.

The protests come after President Assad offered dialogue and reform on Monday, in his third address to the nation since the start of demonstrations.

Activists dismissed the offers as cosmetic, and clashes broke out between supporters of President Assad and anti-government protesters on Tuesday.

Flight into Turkey

In the north, Syrian residents have continued to flee a widening crackdown by the army.

Turkish state media said more than 1,500 people had crossed the border from Syria on Thursday after troops and tanks moved into the Syrian border village of Khirbet al-Jouz.

Latest Syria flash-points

Map

An elderly resident said only about 10 of the village's 2,000 residents remained, while the rest had fled.

"There are military soldiers, tanks, security forces, thugs and snipers sitting on the roof tops of building in the village," the resident told BBC Arabic. "They looted properties homes."

"There is nothing here, they (Syrian authorities) said there are armed gangs and so on. Where are these armed gangs?"

A total of 11,700 Syrian have sought refuge in Turkey, the Turkish government says.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the reported Syrian troop movements were "very worrisome".

The EU has also drafted a declaration condemning the "unacceptable and shocking violence the Syrian regime continues to apply on its own citizens".

EU leaders are expected to endorse the declaration later.

Start Quote

They gave us orders to fire heavily at unarmed civilians”

End Quote Syrian soldier who defected

The EU's official journal said the three Iranian Revolutionary Guard members now subject to sanctions had been "providing equipment and support to help the Syrian regime suppress protests in Syria".

The Iranians added to the EU sanctions list were two Revolutionary Guard commanders, Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani and Brig Cmdr Mohammad Ali Jafari, and the Guard's deputy commander for intelligence, Hossein Taeb.

They will now be subject to having their assets frozen and being banned from travel to the EU.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed their inclusion on the sanctions list.

"The Iranian government's provision of equipment and technical advice to help suppress peaceful protests is absolutely unacceptable," said Mr Hague in a statement.

While outside pressures are building on Syria - from Turkey, which is increasingly alarmed by the flow of refugees across its border, from the US and from Europe, which has stepped up sanctions on individual Syrian figures and companies - it is unclear what results these can yield, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

Outside intervention, as in Libya, remains highly unlikely, says our correspondent, while inside, the protests are not gaining much ground.

But the protests show no sign of petering out, he adds. And the longer they go on, the more chance there is that economic or sectarian strains will cause something to give.

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