Syria shrugged off warnings from neighboring Turkey, the United States and other countries to cease military operations against unarmed civilians, killing at least 13 people Friday as protests erupted countrywide despite the growing security crackdown, according to accounts from witnesses and activists.
Among the dead were some killed in the eastern town of Dair Alzour by security forces who opened fire when worshipers emerged from Friday prayers, according to a resident reached by telephone. The city, an opposition stronghold near the Iraq border, has been under attack by Syrian forces for the past week.
“Directly after they came out of the mosques the security forces rushed toward the demonstrators and shot live ammunition at them,” said the resident, who would identify himself only by his first name of Abdullah. Security forces had burned bakeries in the town since beginning their offensive a week ago, forcing civilians to roam wide distances in search of bread, the resident said. He said three people had been killed in Friday’s violence in the town.
In Khan Sheikhon near the Turkish border, tanks and troops stormed the town at dawn, killing a pregnant woman, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups. The group detailed other alleged deadly attacks on civilians Friday in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, where a man was reportedly shot and killed in a protest that followed dawn prayers, and in the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and elsewhere.
In Aleppo, the second-largest city and a center of support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, protesters and security forces clashed. Video posted on the Internet showed young men running through a poor district as bursts of gunfire sounded.
Friday’s biggest protests appeared to have been in the Damascus suburbs and in the coastal city of Latakia, where thousands of protesters unfurled a huge Syrian flag.
Fridays have been the main day of protests throughout the Arab revolutions. Friday’s demonstrations posed a test for Assad following increasingly tough warnings from the international community. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that she was pushing other countries, particularly China and India, to join in before the United States would call for Assad to step down.
Turkey, Syria’s more powerful and wealthier neighbor, was likely to regard the violence, especially that along its border, as an affront.
Turkey’s foreign minister traveled to Damascus this week to press Assad to stop attacks, and Turkish officials had said their government would be closely watching Syria’s actions in coming days. Turkey’s diplomatic move ”would actually qualify as an ultimatum … for Assad to reexamine his stance and his policy,” Sinan Ulgen, an analyst and former Turkish diplomat, said by telephone Friday.
Turkey’s Zaman newspaper reported that the Turkish military, apparently alarmed by the Syrian raids near the Turkish border, had called up recently retired officers and sent many to provinces along the frontier with Syria.
The border area has been the scene of repeated offensives that Turkey says have pushed more than 7,000 Syrians into refugee camps just inside Turkey. Syrian forces stormed the town of Saraqbe near the border on Thursday, and killed 11 people in a raid on a western town near Lebanon.
Syria’s military is blocking roads leading to Turkey, preventing new refugee flows, Omar Miqdad, a Syrian activist who has fled to Turkey, said by telephone.