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Syria Blames 'Gang' for Violence in Southern City


In this image grab obtained by AFPTV from YouTube on March 23, 2011, Syrian protesters run for cover from tear gas during a recent but undated demonstration in the southern town of Daraa. AFP could verify that the pictures were shot in Daraa.

In this image grab obtained by AFPTV from YouTube on March 23, 2011, Syrian protesters run for cover from tear gas during a recent but undated demonstration in the southern town of Daraa. AFP could verify that the pictures were shot in Daraa.

Rights activists in Syria say security forces carried out a deadly attack near a mosque where anti-government protesters have gathered. However state media said "an armed gang" was behind violence in the southern city of Daraa early Wednesday.

Syria's state news agency SANA quotes an official source as saying the gang attacked an ambulance near the city's Omari mosque, killing a doctor, a paramedic and a driver. The report says security forces confronted the attackers and "hit and arrested" some of them.

A member of the security forces was also reported killed in the incident.

But rights activists and residents say Syrian security forces killed six people after opening fire near the mosque where demonstrators calling for political reform have gathered for the past six days.

The conflicting reports could not be immediately reconciled.

Security forces killed four demonstrators in Daraa when protests erupted on Friday. Another demonstrator was killed on Sunday, and an 11-year-old boy died Monday after suffering tear gas inhalation.

In an attempt to contain the unrest, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Tuesday fired the governor of Daraa Province. But his dismissal failed to quell popular anger as protests reached several neighboring towns.

Authorities have also ramped up detentions across the country. A Syrian rights organization said police arrested a prominent activist Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Loay Hussein, a former political prisoner who had spoken out in favor of the protests, was taken from his home near the capital, Damascus. Rights groups have reported dozens more "arbitrary and random arrests."

Protesters are demanding Assad end Syria's emergency law, curb its pervasive security apparatus, free thousands of political prisoners and allow freedom of expression. Activists have so far not called for the end of his government.

Syria has been under emergency law since the Baath Party took power in a 1963, banning any opposition to its rule.

The United States and the United Nations have called for an independent investigation into the recent violence. On Monday, the U.S. condemned Syria's reaction to the protests.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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