At least fifteen people, including a doctor and paramedic, have been killed at the Omari mosque in the southern Syrian province of Daraa, says the BBC. Hundreds had been gathering around it to prevent troops from seizing the mosque, which had become the focus of demonstrations against the government. On Tuesday afternoon, protesters had started to set up tents outside the mosque but by midnight, lines for electricity and mobile phones had been cut. Security forces used tear gas and ammunition against protesters and have set up checkpoints manned with soldiers in camouflage uniforms and plainclothes, and armed, security agents.
The unrest there started with the arrest last week of a group of students who sprayed anti-government graffiti on walls in the main city of Daraa, some 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of the capital Damascus.
Demonstrations calling for the students’ release swelled into calls for political freedoms and security forces killed at least seven people in attempts to quash them, according to witnesses and activists.
The Syrian government fired the governor of the southern province of Daraa but failed to quell popular anger and on Tuesday the protests reached the village of Nawa, where hundreds of people marched demanding reforms, activist said.
Syria’s state media and political activists offered differing accounts of what happened on Tuesday:
One activist told BBC Arabic there was a “massacre” taking place in the country.
“The Syrian authorities are now committing a crime against humanity whose victims are innocent, defenceless and peaceful citizens, who are staging peaceful sit-ins, and who don’t even have stones to defend themselves with,” said the activist, who did not want to be named.
“These people think that they can kill the democratic protesters without being held to account.”
State media said four people had been killed. Officials blamed the violence on an “armed gang”, which they said had attacked a medical team in an ambulance, killing a doctor, paramedic and driver. One member of the security forces had also been killed, said the report.
“The security forces who were near the area intervened, hitting some and arresting others,” the AFP news agency quoted officials as telling state media.
Syria has been under emergency law since 1963. BBC journalist Lina Sinjab—one of the few to be in Daraa—says that ‘the events are unprecedented in recent Syrian history, and the unrest is certainly making the government very worried.’ At least 22 people have been killed in protests so far, according to the Guardian.
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Photo by Tonemgub2010 (Own work) [CC0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.