Syrians rally to support defectors; 12 killed

Syrians rally to support defectors; 12 killed

Syrians held mass demonstrations in several cities Friday against President Bashar al-Assad, voicing support for the rebel Syrian Free Army, which has been carrying out increasingly sophisticated attacks against government forces, dpa reported.

A video posted on YouTube showed footage of a burning armoured personnel carrier, apparently destroyed in an attack by Syrian rebels in the flashpoint city of Homs. "May God protect the Syrian Free Army," it said.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi this week told an Egyptian television channel that he feared Syria was sliding towards civil war, which could have severe implications for the entire Middle East.

Meanwhile, more than 12 people were killed by government troops in the provinces of Hama and Homs, and suburban areas of the capital Damascus, activist Omar Homsi told dpa by phone from Homs.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that security forces opened fire on anti-regime demonstrators in Deir Ezzor in the north-east, and Daraa province, south of Damascus.

Another video posted by activists on YouTube showed deserted streets in Homs where the crackle of gunfire could be heard. The voiceover claimed the gunshots were fired by government snipers positioned on rooftops.

The opposition says about 40,000 Sunni Muslim soldiers have defected from the army, which is run by officers from al-Assad's minority Alawite sect.

The German government on Friday urged its nationals to leave Syria, citing the worsening security situation.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the country since the uprising against al-Assad erupted in mid-March.

In Homs, activists mourned the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier, who was killed in an attack in the restive city where he was covering a pro-regime rally.

"We held a candlelight vigil overnight for him. We believe Jacquier was killed by the pro-regime thugs," said Homsi.

Syrian authorities said Thursday they would probe the death of Jacquier, who worked for the France 2 television network. The opposition accused the regime of deliberately targeting him.

On Friday, two journalists working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and their translator were briefly detained by security forces in the area of Douma, near Damascus, a source close to the journalists told dpa.

The team, which was working in Syria under the authorization of the government, was released following a lengthy interrogation, the source said.

The violence in Syria has worsened despite the presence of an Arab League mission monitoring the government's compliance with an peace plan to end the bloodshed.

Two monitors have quit the mission, saying it was failing to achieve its goal.

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