Protests sweep Syria on last Ramadan Friday
Security forces killed at least five people as they fired on protesters rallying in their tens of thousands across Syria on the last Friday of Ramadan and vowing to bring down the regime.
A sixth man died Friday in detention, his family told rights groups.
Spurred by calls posted on the Internet, protesters flooded the streets in the north, centre and south of the country, chanting "Bashar, we don't love you, even if you turn night into day," according to activists.
The latest bloodletting came as the UN Security Council remained divided over measures against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, with Russia and China blocking bids to pass fresh sanctions, including a total arms embargo.
The ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, meanwhile, upped the pressure on Syria during a visit to key Damascus ally Iran, saying the use of force was "fruitless."
The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook group, a motor of the protests since they began in mid-March, called the rallies under the banner of "Friday of patience and determination"
"We will not rest until the fall of the regime," its message read.
Rights activists said at least three people were killed and 25 wounded by security forces and pro-regime militiamen as protesters poured out of mosques, defying a crackdown which the UN says has killed more than 2,200 people.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one person was killed in Nawa, in the southern Daraa province where the protest movement began on March 15, and three others in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor.
A 16-year-old boy was killed in the northwestern town of Idlib, it said.
And a 56-year-old man jailed by authorities in Maaret Nooman, northern Syria, died on Friday but his body has not been handed over, his family told the Observatory.
Some 15,000 marched in Al-Khalidiyeh, in the protest hub of Homs in central Syria, while huge demonstrations erupted in Deir Ezzor, in and around Damascus, in Al-Bukamal bordering Iraq, and Idlib.
Among those wounded were a father and his daughter caught outside their home in Homs, the activists said.
The official SANA news agency said armed masked men attacked security forces in Deir Ezzor, wounding three but they were later killed in an exchange of fire.
The Local Coordination Committees, a group with people on the ground across Syria involved in organising protests against Assad's regime, also reported that 5,000 people demonstrated in Qamishli, northeast Syria.
Abdel Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights who spent time in jail earlier this month, said thousands flooded the streets of Sakhur, a neighbourhood of Syria's second city Aleppo.
The Syrian Revolution 2011 urged pro-democracy protesters to rally throughout the night in Aleppo for Laylat al-Qadr -- a high point during the fasting month of Ramadan that marks when the Koran holy book was revealed to Prophet Mohammed.
For its part, SANA said police were hunting for the attackers who beat up Syria's leading political cartoonist.
According to opposition activists, security forces and masked pro-regime militias were behind the attack on cartoonist Ali Ferzat, 60.
Ferzat said four men abducted him as he returned home before dawn on Thursday, broke two of his fingers and one arm, and damaged one of his eyes.
The United States said the attack was "disgusting and deplorable" while French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero called it "brutal and shocking."
"France is more determined than ever to do everything possible so that the regime of Bashar al-Assad will put an end to repression," Valero said.
Russia on Friday proposed a Security Council resolution on Syria that would omit Western calls to sanction Assad, urging him only to implement reforms and both sides to engage in dialogue.
It conflicts with a European-US motion that would provide for sanctions, which Russia has hinted it would veto.
Regionally, the ruler of Qatar said Syria's use of force to quash dissent was "fruitless" and that reforms must be implemented to meet the aspirations of protesters.
Sheikh Hamad, the latest leader from the energy-rich Gulf monarchies to pressure Syria, spoke in Tehran after talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a strong ally of Assad.
Also at the UN, a spokesman said a humanitarian mission just returned from Syria found an "urgent need" to protect civilians against excessive force and reported widespread intimidation.
The mission was the first allowed into Syria since Assad launched his deadly crackdown on opposition protests.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the experts were allowed to visit a number of protest cities during their five days in Syria but were always accompanied by government minders, limiting their ability to assess the situation fully.
© 2011 AFP