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At least three killed as Syria braces for more protests | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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DAMASCUS, (AFP) — Security forces killed at least three people in Syria on Friday as the country braced for more protests after the weekly Muslim prayers, with pro-reform activists reaching out to the army to join their 10-week uprising.

The three men were gunned down in the town of Dael in the flashpoint southern province of Daraa, as they were chanting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is greatest” on rooftops, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.

Friday’s protests are taking place under the slogan “Friday of the guardians of the homeland,” a reference to the army and a play on words used in the first verse of Syria’s national anthem.

“The army, the people, one hand,” said Syrian Revolution 2011, a Facebook group spurring the anti-regime protests.

Its message was carried alongside a picture of Yusuf al-Azmah, a national hero who defied the French army during the colonial era.

But it seemed unlikely the army would break ranks with the regime, given that top commanders are fiercely loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and hail mostly from his minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The army’s feared 4th division, which was sent in last month to crush the revolt in Daraa, is also controlled by the president’s brother Maher.

Since the revolt in Syria erupted mid-March, Friday protests have become a weekly ritual and are widely seen as a barometer of whether activists are able to maintain momentum despite the repression.

The protests that swept the country last Friday left at least 44 people dead. Several more were killed the following day during funerals for the victims.

Protesters in recent days have shifted their strategy, opting to stage demonstrations at night in a bid to outwit the security forces and avoid arrest.

Activists said protests had taken place at night in various cities and towns across the country and there were no casualties reported.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and 10,000 others arrested since the revolt began in mid-March, according to rights groups.

Syrian authorities say 143 soldiers, security forces and police have been killed.

Foreign journalists have been barred from travelling inside Syria to report on the unrest.

The revolt has posed the greatest challenge to Assad’s 11-year-rule but his regime has remained defiant in the face of punitive sanctions and mounting international condemnation.

The G8 nations meeting in France were expected to issue a statement later on Friday warning Syria of United Nations Security Council action if it fails to stop the violence.

“We call on the Syrian leadership to immediately stop using force and intimidation against the Syrian people and to respond to their legitimate demands for freedom of expression and universal rights and aspirations,” a draft of the statement said.

“We also call for the release of all political prisoners in Syria. Only the path of dialogue and fundamental reforms will lead to democracy, and thus to long-term security and prosperity in Syria,” it said.

“Should the Syrian authorities not heed this call, we will consider further measures. We are convinced that only by implementing meaningful reforms will a democratic Syria be able to play a positive role in the region.”

It was not clear whether the draft’s strong language would be kept in the final declaration, with Russia in particular wary of threatening a Middle East ally.

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Assad’s regime of implementing a “shoot-to-kill” policy in its crackdown on the pro-reform movement.

“Amnesty International has obtained video footage that points to a ‘shoot to kill’ policy being used by the Syrian security forces to quell reform protests,” said the London-based human rights watchdog.

It said the footage was shot in late March and April in and around Daraa.

The government insists the unrest is the work of “armed terrorist gangs” backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

It initially responded to the revolt by offering some concessions, including lifting the state of emergency in place for nearly five decades, but coupled that with a fierce military crackdown focused on protest hubs.

The opposition has dismissed calls for dialogue, saying that could only take place once the violence ends, political prisoners are released and other reforms are adopted.