Reports from Syria say at least 19 people have been killed as government troops fired on anti-government protesters in a half-dozen cities across the country. The demonstrations, following Friday prayers, come amid a week-long government crackdown.
Syrian anti-government activists Friday said protesters were killed in areas that include Aleppo, Homs, the suburbs of Damascus and in northwestern Syria near the border with Turkey.
Government security forces reportedly also fired on demonstrators following prayers in Hama and Deir el-Zor.
They were the latest incidents in a five month-long popular uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Human rights organizations say more than 1,700 people have been killed in the attacks.
The raids intensified this past week as the Syrian government sought to quell the growing dissent.
A Syria specialist with the social-activist group, Avaaz, Wissam Tarif, says his group is preparing to petition the United Nations to bring charges of crimes against humanity against the al-Assad government.
“We have documented different kinds of human rights violations, arbitrary detentions, torture, mass killings, [be]sieging cities and forced disappearances. Mass killings, [be] sieging cities and forced disappearances is a crime against humanity according to international criminal law," said Tarif.
He said his group has also documented nearly 3,000 disappearances and some 25,000 cases of arbitrary detention in the past five months.
The Syrian government says it is combating gangs of armed terrorists. Eyewitnesses say the victims have been mostly unarmed civilians.
A Syria expert with the London-based Chatham House, Nadim Shehadi, says the situation indicates a growing desperation on the part of the government.
“The regime has crossed a line and it has lost its power and its legitimacy," said Shehadi. "And it is very clear that there is no way it will go back to the same position it was in before this started. However, the messages that it receives from the international community are interpreted as asking Bashar al-Assad to stay in power, that they cannot see beyond the regime.”
He accused the al-Assad government of fomenting (encouraging) the violence in hopes of creating the impression that only it is capable of maintaining order and stability in Syria.
The U.S. government says Assad's government has lost legitimacy. But Washington has not yet called for him to step down. Senior officials have said it was important for the international community to speak with one voice on Syria.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged countries to stop trading with Syria and buying products that include oil and gas. In a speech at the State Department, Friday, she also called on countries who have been supporting the Syrian government to "get on the right side of history."
Syrian dissidents say Damascus is using revenues from its petroleum exports to pay for the crackdown.
The European Union said it was considering additional sanctions.