30 killed in Syria as activists call for 'no-fly' zone
Syrian security forces killed at least 30 people on Friday as they pursued a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters after activists called for a no-fly zone to protect civilians and soldiers deserting the army, a rights group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said all the fatalities, except for one, were in Hama, in the north, and Homs in the centre, and that security forces encircled mosques to prevent protesters from flooding the streets after weekly Muslim prayers.
"Eight civilians were killed in various neighbourhoods of Hama, 20 others in the city of Homs and one civilian was killed in Qusayr, in the region of Homs," the Observatory said in a statement updating an earlier toll.
A civilian was also killed and 10 wounded by security forces in Tsil, in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of more than seven months of anti-regime dissent, the group said.
Hama and Homs are at the front line of the anti-regime protests that have rocked Syria since mid-March, since when the UN estimates more than 3,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the bloody repression.
The army has been carrying out operations in Qusayr for several weeks, amid fighting there between troops and suspected army deserters, activists say.
"Despite the siege, the proliferation of checkpoints and the encirclement of mosques, people staged a mass demonstration in Kafr Nabl," a town in Idlib, near the Turkish border, demanding the "imposition of a no-fly zone," the Britain-based Observatory said.
That call was echoed in Homs, which was flooded by several protests as worshippers emerged from midday prayers. In the restive Balaa neighbourhood around 20,000 people marched calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic regime, it said.
Meanwhile, activists said heavy gunfire and five explosions were heard in Qusayr, a restive town near the Lebanese border, where security forces sought to break up demonstrators streaming out of several mosques.
Suspected army defectors and troops reportedly also clashed in Hama.
Troops also raided the northwestern town of Kafruma, arresting 13 people, including a woman and her 12-year-old son, while the funeral of an army deserter in Maaret al-Numan, turned into an anti-regime rally. Protesters in Deir Ezzor, further east, also came under fire.
In Damascus, dozens of defiant young protesters marched in the neighbourhood of Barzeh, the Observatory said, adding that 40 were arrested.
The latest bloodletting comes as activists called for nationwide protests on Friday to demand the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria to protect civilians and to encourage soldiers to defect.
"We call on the international community to impose a no-fly zone so that the Syrian Free Army can function with greater freedom," said the Syrian Revolution 2011 on its Facebook page.
A defecting army officer who has taken refuge in Turkey, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, claimed in July to have established an opposition armed force called the "Syrian Free Army," but its strength and numbers are unknown.
A UN-mandated no-fly zone was imposed over Libya to protect civilians as fighting raged to oust the regime of ex-dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
On October 4, permanent UN Security Council members Russia and China vetoed a proposed resolution that would have threatened the Syrian leadership with "targeted measures" unless it halted the bloody repression.
Meanwhile, Spain summoned Syria's ambassador over allegations that members of his embassy abused Syrian opposition sympathisers on Spanish soil and warned of "appropriate measures," the foreign ministry said.
Hussamedin Ala'a was called in "after repeated complaints by Syrian and Spanish-Syrian citizens, opponents of the current regime, of acts allegedly committed by members of the embassy in clear abuse of their status," a statement said.
© 2011 AFP