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Syrian Security Forces Storm Mosque

Burning tires and scattered roadblocks set by the anti-Syrian government protesters litter a street, following clashes between the security forces and protesters, in the southern city of Daraa, March 23, 2011

Tension continues to mount in the southern Syrian city of Daraa Wednesday, after security forces stormed the city’s main mosque overnight, killing at least six people.

Protesters shouted and screamed as Syrian special forces opened fire on a dense crowd of people holed up in Daraa’s al Omari mosque.

Hundreds of protesters were hiding inside the mosque, believing that authorities would not attack a house of worship. An eyewitness cried as he told al-Arabiya TV that the electricity was cut just as the firing began, and that people were cut down all around him.

Syrian government TV claimed that the protesters attacked a team of medics, provoking a shootout with security forces. The report also claimed that the protesters had a secret room inside the mosque filled with weapons and ammunition. It showed images of grenades, automatic rifles and gasoline bombs it said were seized inside the mosque.

Anas al Abdeh, a Syrian opposition politician who heads the Justice and Construction Party, told VOA that the protesters have been demonstrating for more than a week, and that the authorities decided it was time to put a stop to their movement.

"The regime asked the special forces to storm the mosque.," he said. "I was talking to three people who were nearby on the phone at the time of the storming of the mosque and I could hear the gunshots very loud and very clear."

"It was a deliberate attempt from the regime to crush this demonstration and to basically teach them a lesson to stop this action against the regime. My understanding and my belief is that people will not stop. It will do the exact opposite: it will encourage people to protest even more," he added.

Former Syrian member of parliament Mamoun Homsi, who now lives in exile in Canada, alleged to al-Arabiya TV that the Syrian government was using Hezbollah militiamen to clamp down on the demonstrators.

Before the government crackdown, hundreds of protesters chanted slogans against Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its patron Iran. Daraa is a mostly Sunni Arab town while both Hezbollah and Iran's leadership are Shi'ite. Syria is governed by the minority Alawite group, which is an offshoot of Shi’ism.

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